09/13/2019, 16.11
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Myanmar commander-in-chief meets Baptist leader to discuss peace in Kachin

A lawsuit was filed against the president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) for telling Trump that Myanmar lacks religious freedom. Armed forces are told to seek civilian support by showing humility and patience. Discussions centred on the return of displaced people.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), and the leaders of the Baptist Church in the northern state of Kachin, scene of a brutal conflict, met yesterday in Mandalay, central Myanmar, to discuss the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the peace process and religious freedom.

In addition to the senior general, the meeting was attended by Rev Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), representatives of the Kachin people (who are 90 per cent Christian), and members of the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG).

At the meeting (picture 1), held at the military’s Central Command headquarters at the Mandalay Palace, the Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that domestic peace is fundamental at a time when the country is undergoing a transition to full democracy. To ensure it and promote progress, the nation must be stable, he said, both politically and in terms of security.

“When it comes to religion, there is religious freedom for all. So, there should not be unnecessary political instability or conflict under the pretext of religion,” he explained, in a clear reference to a lawsuit involving Rev Hkalam Samson.

On 17 July, the religious leader met with President Donald Trump and senior US officials at the White House (picture 2), as part of a US State Department initiative to promote religious freedom. During the meeting, Samson complained about the lack of religious freedom in Myanmar, and that oppression and torture are still taking place in the country, still affected by fighting between armed ethnic organisations (EAOs) and the Myanmar army despite the return to civilian rule.

In Washington, the religious leader asked for US support for a transition to a "genuine" democracy and support for federalism. “As Christians in Myanmar, we are… being oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government,” he told Trump in the Oval Office.

Hkalam Samson told the US leader that he was grateful to the US for the recent decision to impose sanctions on Myanmar military leaders because of violence against the Rohingya minority in 2017.

As a result of such remarks, Lieutenant-Colonel Than Htike, from the Myanmar military’s Northern Command based in Kachin State, filed a lawsuit in August against Rev Samson at the Myitkyina Township Court.

On Monday, the military withdrew the lawsuit without offering details. For the reverend, the move is a clear signal to the international community that Myanmar’s military was making progress.

In light of this, the clergyman urged the military to gain civilian support by showing humility and patience, noting that the Senior General too expressed a desire to see IDPs in Kachin State return to their homes quickly.

In this case, both sides must guarantee their safe return, he said. But to achieve this, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the state must necessary sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement first.

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