Monks flee fighting in Kayah State
Buddhist clerics have been forced to abandon their shrines, usually considered safe havens. Some NGOs put the number of people displaced over the past week at 170,000. For Myanmar’s Catholic bishops, it is necessary “to facilitate humanitarian access to suffering and internally displaced people”.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of Buddhist monks have fled the cities of Loikaw and Demoso in the state of Kayah due to intensified fighting between ethnic militias and the Myanmar troops.
Last week, tens of thousands of people fled their homes and took refuge in Shan State to escape bombardments by the country’s military, which overthrew the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February of last year.
According to the United Nations, 90,000 people were forced to flee last week. Some NGOs estimate the figure to be much higher, around 170,000. This group joined the more than 200,000 people already internally displaced.
Some 30 monasteries were abandoned, something unusual in a country where temples are considered safe havens.
“It was impossible for us to stay there,” a monk said, requesting anonymity for his safety. “It was hard to make the decision to leave, but we had to do it,” he added.
“The town is deserted like a cemetery,” a police officer told Agence France Press. Roughly 600 vehicles were leaving the town daily, he explained.
Twelve monasteries in nearby Demoso town have also been emptied, whilst a Christian priest said that about 15 priests also fled Loikaw last week.
The two locations are strongholds of anti-coup rebels and fighting has increased since December. In addition to bombardments, the military has halted supplies of water, electricity and the Internet.
Recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews called on junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to “halt the air and ground attacks” on Loikaw, lift the blockade on people seeking to escape, and allow aid to get through.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) made the same request, urging “all concerned to facilitate humanitarian access to suffering and internally displaced peoples [sic] to provide them basic humanitarian assistance.”
In their statement, the CBCM stressed that human dignity and the right to life can never be compromised.
“We strongly demand respect for life, respect for the sanctity of sanctuary in places of worship, hospitals, and schools,” reads the statement, issued last Friday. “Thousands are on the move; millions are starving.”
Lastly, the prelates call on priests, religious men and women, and catechists to remain engaged in their “mission of love and sacrifice for the people irrespective of faith, race, and place”, convinced that openness and fellowship can “heal this nation”.