11/11/2022, 10.30
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Loikaw, Sr Rosanna Favero: 'Among the displaced in the forests the most pitiful situations'

by Alessandra De Poli

Homeless, with little food and without even knowing whether family members are still alive or not: these are the conditions of the refugees who have been suffering the violence of the Burmese junta for over a year, the missionary recipient of the Cuore amico (Friendly Heart) award speaks with AsiaNews. At most, the Missionary Handmaidens of the Blessed Sacrament have been allowed to bring "spiritual comfort". The children, deprived of school for three years, are living one of the greatest tragedies.

Milan (AsiaNews) - "Never let it be thought that the situation in Myanmar has improved", is the warning of Sister Rosanna Favero who a few weeks ago received the Cuore amico (Friendly Heart) award, an acknowledgement instituted by the non-profit organisation of the same name and given every year to personalities who distinguish themselves for their missionary work.

The nun, after an initial missionary experience in Colombia, has been living in the Philippines since 1992. Since 2003, she has worked so that the Missionary Handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament - an order founded in Venice in 1923 to serve missionaries - have been able to expand thier work to Myanmar. "This recognition is an embrace for all the young nuns who are working hard without letting their fatigue show," an emotional Sister Rosanna told AsiaNews. "And it is an encouragement to go forward with courage, knowing that we have so many good people supporting us."

In Loikaw, Kayah State, where her sisters reside, the reality is far from what is painted by the Burmese military junta that seized power in February last year and started a brutal civil conflict. As other AsiaNews sources have reported, the military is forcing the displaced population to return to their villages. "But the soldiers have set fire to houses and razed entire towns to the ground and going back to work in the fields is too dangerous because the soldiers often sow anti-personnel mines in the places they pass," the nun explains.

The aim is to prevent civilians from supporting, even materially, the resistance, which is made up of the People's Defence Forces - the armed wing of the government of national unity in exile - and the ethnic militias, present in the various Burmese states since the time of independence from the British colonial empire.

Thus for two years no harvest has been sown and rice, the staple of the Burmese diet, costs three times as much. No one knows how long the resources of the Loikaw diocese itself will last.

Despite the presence of structured camps on the border with Thailand - Kayah has already been the scene of ethnic clashes in the past - 'most of the population continues to take refuge in the forests,' the missionary continues to recount. "That is where most of the families (women with small children and the elderly) and the most pitiful situations are to be found".

"At best you manage to scrape together a tent, otherwise tree branches are used as shelter". Delivering aid (even for UN agencies) is impossible because of the checkpoints: "At best, the nuns have been allowed to visit the displaced population to give spiritual comfort". But it is the children who are experiencing one of the greatest dramas: for the third year running they are not going to school regularly. "In June, the sisters had reopened their school, but after two weeks, seven teachers were kidnapped and no one has seen them since". There are informal after-school classes, but only because the local troops allow it.

The war meanwhile has broken up entire families: "One of our novices only learned a year later that her brother had been killed in combat," comments Sr. Rosanna. Communication is becoming more and more difficult because it is simply not possible to recharge mobile phones. Until a few months ago they could be done from abroad, but then the ruling military prevented this. 

After the coup, the junta asked the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor to hand over user data. The company refused and withdrew from the country, selling its shares to the Lebanese group M1, which then sold them back to a company linked to the military, Shwe Byain Phyu. Calls, e-mails and messages are constantly monitored.

It is to her sisters in Myanmar that St Rosanna dedicates the Friendly Heart award: 'For me they are a school of strength, courage and faith. They are giving more than they have with love". 

In the meantime, the fighting continues: in recent weeks the coup junta has bombed - with most probably Russian-made aircraft - the municipality of Hpakant, in Kachin State, killing more than 100 people. And at the same time diplomacy continues to fail: while the military prevented the stricken civilian population from getting hospital treatment, the Burmese air force chief, General Tun Aung, was appointed chairman of the Conference of Chief Aviation Officers of Asean, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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