05/31/2018, 14.45
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Myanmar and world religious leaders for peace in Rakhine

by Lawrence Jangma Gam

Led by Card Charles Maung Bo, a delegation of Religions for Peace, visited Rakhine. The religious representatives visited refugee camps and local ethnic communities. Between May 22 and 25, they came together to express a shared response to the challenges facing the country.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) – Major national and international religious leaders are calling for peaceful reconciliation of the various groups involved in Myanmar’s ethnoreligious strife.

A few days ago, Card Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, led a delegation representing Religions for Peace (RFP) to Rakhine State in western Myanmar.

Between May 26 and 28, top members of the world’s largest and most representative interfaith organisation visited the areas around the cities of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, and Maundaw.

Violence broke in the area in August 2017, following a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the consequent response by Myanmar’s security forces.

The delegation arrived in Maung Taw on the first day accompanied by top government officials, such as Religious Affairs Minister Thura U Aung Ko and Rakhine Chief Minister U Kyaw Aye Thein.

The city is on the border with Bangladesh, where some 700,000 Muslims and hundreds of Hindus found refuge in the Hla Hpo Khaung Kya camp after fleeing violence. This is one of the newly built facilities to accommodate returning refugees.

The visitors were welcomed by U Khin Maung Tin, deputy minister of the State Counsellor Office, which is headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Project engineer and Maung Taw district administrator U Ye Htut briefed the delegation about the plan to host the refugees, how the camp is being built and how refugees will be received. He answered their questions. At the end of meeting, the delegation drove around to see things closer.

The group then headed to the Taung Pyo Lat Wae camp, where they were briefed by its administrators, deputy director U Soe Tun and director U Ko Thaw of the Ministry of Labour, population and immigration. The latter provided information about the camp, the registration process, and the issuance of RV cards.

The delegation later visited the friendship bridge between Myanmar and Bangladesh and some government offices where officials provided information about immigration, biometric data collection and healthcare for refugees.

The religious leaders met with Hindu victims of ARSA at Maung Taw district General Administration Department (GAD) meeting hall.

They heard the former hostages tell their stories about their captivity and the conditions in the camp. RFP president U Myint Swe gave them a cash donation.

Afterwards, Card Bo and the other members of the delegation left for Pan Taw Myae, a recently rebuilt Muslim majority village where the local administrator briefed them about local social and economic conditions. The visitors also quizzed the local official about primary and Islamic education in the village.

Finally, the RFP delegation visited two other villages, inhabited by ethnic Myo and Kain Gyi.

At the start of the crisis, the terrorists attacked the Myo population, which thanks to government support was able to rebuild its settlement. The meeting focused on food security, education and peaceful coexistence between the two communities.

After this meeting, the interfaith group returned to Sittwe.

The Rakhine visit by the RFP shows the commitment of religious leaders to the difficult path of reconciliation in Myanmar. On 25 May, Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s Foreign Minister received Card Bo and the other 18 members of the RFP delegation (pictures 2 and 3).

The latter handed over a ‘Letter to the Peoples of Myanmar’ to State Counsellor Suu Kyi – it contains a joint appeal for peace and development in the country.

Earlier in the week, between 22 and 25 may, Card Bo hosted Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim leaders in Yangon (picture 1) for a meeting centred on understanding the religious, cultural, political and socio-economic challenges that await the nation and to find a shared response, convinced that only dialogue and common action can open the path to peace.

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