05/11/2018, 15.47
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Backed by Pope Francis, an international conference on the Rohingya coming soon, says Card Bo

by Paolo Fossati

The meeting should take place within the year, most likely in Rome. During his apostolic visit, the Holy Father brought financial aid. The Catholic Church in Myanmar is already involved in development and aid projects in Rakhine State.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The Pope will organise an international conference on the Rohingya," said Card Charles Maung Bo (picture 1), archbishop of Yangon and Myanmar’s first cardinal.

Together with the other members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), he met the pontiff two days ago during their ad limina visit to the Vatican

In an interview at the end of the audience with Pope Francis, the archbishop of Yangon talked about the difficult humanitarian situation in the western state of Rakhine and explained the special attention with which the Holy See observes its evolution.

"The Rohingya are a people without a homeland,” Card Bo said. “No state in the region, not even the Islamic countries that speak so much and with so much force to the media, is ready to accept them. So, we asked the pope, through the Secretariat of State, to organise an international conference to get the international community to help this population. We said that Myanmar and Bangladesh alone are not able to solve a situation in which two million people are not accepted."

According to VaticanNews, the pontiff told the bishops of Myanmar that the Secretariat of State will organise this international conference within the year and most likely in Rome.

Since the crisis broke out in Rakhine, Pope Francis has expressed compassion for Rohingya suffering. During his visit to Myanmar (27-30 November 2017), the pontiff cited their predicament several times even though the authorities had asked him not to mention them.

The Holy See also donated money on behalf of the Catholic Church to solve the crisis. The Holy Father told the Burmese that the future of the country must be "peace, peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of every member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity."

Mgr Alexander Pyone Cho (picture 2, first on the right) is the bishop of Pyay, a diocese that includes Rakhine. Speaking to AsiaNews, prelate confirmed the pope's personal commitment. "The Holy Father provided Card Bo with financial aid. The latter met with Aung San Suu Kyi, to discuss how best to use it,” the bishop said.

"The problems in Rakhine are very delicate and complex,” Mgr Pyone Cho added. “There are three parties involved: the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces), the Muslims and ethnic Rakhine. The latter consider the army an expression of the power of the Burmese, who constitute the majority of the Myanmar people.

"Since ancient times, Rakhine [State] has been a land of conquest for Burmese kings and even today the local population resents the [central] government in Naypyitaw for its attitude of arrogance. This has caused distrust, and in some cases, hatred, by some Rakhine people towards the military."

To this must be added the long-standing ethnic tensions between the local Buddhist population and Muslims.

"When I was a student at the missionary seminary I was sent to one of the parishes in Rakhine and I was able to personally see all the problems caused by these divisions. Today, like then, Buddhists and Muslims are used to provoking each other.”

"However, as far as the latest conflict is concerned, people think the military triggered the violence to divert attention from the fighting in Kachin State over the mines. Solving the problem is really complicated. The Rakhine, the military and Muslims are used to fighting each other."

After the papal visit, the Myanmar Church accepted the pontiff's invitation to become a tool of peace and reconciliation for the whole country.

"Since the conflict began, as a Church we have tried to calm tensions. However, when an important Buddhist came to Rakhine to talk to people about peace and reconciliation, he failed and was forced to leave.”

"At present, the Rakhine do not want and do not seek peace. Many of them have joined the ranks of the Arakan army, an ethnic army that has claimed the right to self-determination and is backed by most of the population."

Still, despite tensions and difficulties, Catholics are already involved in various initiatives. For instance, "Through Caritas Myanmar, the Catholic Church is engaged in projects for the development of the territory,” said Mgr Pyone Cho. “We picked ten locations to realise the project. Six are ethnically Chin villages with a Christian majority, two are Rakhine and two Muslim.

"Another initiative in which we are involved was made possible through the help of a Sri Lankan named Joseph. He has lived and worked in Rakhine State for six years, in the conflict area, and has contacts with senior local government officials.”

"Last November, we began arranging meetings to organise an effective response to the difficult situation afflicting our land. Recently, Caritas met with Joseph and opened an operational headquarters in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State."

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