A SENIOR church leader in Myanmar is praying that the hearts of the “greedy people” behind the military coup that gripped the country last week are “softened” and the population liberated.
Protests erupted across the major cities this week, including Yangon, Mandalay, and the capital of Naypyidaw, after the army seized power on Monday of last week, declaring a year-long state of emergency (News, 5 February). They detained Aung San Suu Kyi, who led Myanmar’s elected government, and closed down TV channels, the internet, and banks.
The sudden putsch ended an 11-year uneasy transition towards democracy, which began in 2010 after decades of repressive military rule. It appears to have been prompted by the defeat of the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in elections in November 2020 (News, 20 November 2020); the new session of parliament, in which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party has a majority, was just about to open.
The senior church leader, who cannot be named, said on Wednesday: “On 1 Feb. 2021, the military made a bloodless coup. Due to that, many people boycotted. We did not have internet access, and no Wi-Fi. Sometimes we even could not use telephones. Please pray for the military government so that their hearts may be softened and give up the coup.
“We also pray every day for the greedy people in our land who want the power and authority to rule the lands which really do not belong to them. It is really hard for us to decide what to do. The only thing we can do is to pray for them. It is dangerous for us to do more than that.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that police had come out in force against tens of thousands of protesters who were held back with water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets which caused several injuries. Dozens of people have been arrested.
The senior analyst for East Asia at CSW, Benedict Rogers, said on Tuesday: “The courageous protests by tens of thousands of people across the country is truly inspiring, but we urge the international community to do more to support their call for the restoration of democracy, the release of political prisoners, and the establishment of a path to dialogue and reconciliation.
“We also call on the international community to respond to the urgent appeal from the ethnic nationalities, especially NGOs working with internally displaced peoples, for immediate cross-border humanitarian aid to access those who cannot be reached from inside the country, and for international pressure on the military to remove blocks to humanitarian access in the ethnic states.
“Finally, we call for targeted, robust sanctions against the military and their enterprises and a global arms embargo. The time for strong statements alone has passed; the time for action is now.”
On Monday, the Joint Strategy Team, a group of local humanitarian NGOs providing assistance to people affected by armed conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, appealed to the United Nations and the international community for “safe and unimpeded humanitarian access” for NGOs providing assistance to IDPs and in response to Covid-19.
“The military are taking more positions with armed troops and artillery, even in towns; and it has impacted on the transportation and movement of local people including IDPs,” the team said. “The civilian population is very worried, fearing that armed clashes will occur.”
Read more on the story from Paul Vallely