For Card Bo, the government wants peace between religions, but the military is not cooperating

The Archbishop of Yangon talked to AsiaNews about a bill designed to favour “confessional harmony in the country." The Religious Affairs minister met leaders of all faiths, but the discussion “was superficial." Tensions remain between the Buddhist majority and Christian and Muslim minorities, but Aung San Suu Kyi “took quite a daring step”.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The Government of Myanmar under the National League for Democracy (NLD) is working on a legislative package in favour of religious harmony.

For Mgr Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon, the new government "will give priority to fostering harmony in the country. It needs to buy time and room to settle tensions. However, I am sceptical about the contribution of the military and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)."

The new measures have two main purposes, “one is to promote living harmoniously among religions, and the second is to take effective action against those who try to disturb harmony”.

Relations between the Buddhist majority and minorities (primarily Muslim and Christian) have often been tense. The proposed law had been in the works under the military junta but never made it to Parliament.

The 2008 military-backed constitution recognises the “right to freely profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution”.

However, the previous military-backed government enacted four laws “to protect race and religion” under pressure from the Committee for the Protection of nationality and religion (Ma Ba Tha) to regulate polygamy and conversions, targeting the Muslim minority.

Religious Affairs and Culture Minister Thura U Aung Ko met members of an interfaith group some weeks ago to discuss the legislation before it reached parliament.

“At least one Catholic priest was present,” Card Bo told AsiaNews, but “There was no serious discussion. The minister said he was open to all faiths, but I felt it was very superficial.”

"The minister,” the archbishop added, “cited the case of the Buddhist monk in Hpa-an district, who built a pagoda on ground owned by the Anglican church. He said that the issue was resolved because the Anglican archbishop gave the land to Buddhists. In fact, he was forced to give it to avoid creating more problems. This monk is a bully.”

Still, “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is paving the way to religious harmony,” the prelate said. “In fact, she called the Buddhist monks of the National Central Committee and gave a talk to them, while offering respect and requesting their prayers.”

What is more, “She advised the monks to show respect and esteem to the other religions, not to discriminate on the basis of colour and race. She took quite a daring step. I presume she is trying to follow the Constitution whereby the state protects and helps all religions without discrimination.”

Myanmar is a large majority Buddhist nation. In 2012, sectarian violence broke out with at least 300 dead and 140,000 displaced people, most of them Rohingya Muslims. However, Christians too have had problems with the Buddhist Burmese majority.