AS THE clashes in Myanmar (Burma) between security forces and protesters turn increasingly bloody, the Suffragan Bishop in Europe, the Rt Revd David Hamid, has called for the international community to intervene.
Bishop Hamid, whose father was forced to leave Burma after the 1962 student-led uprising, which was violently suppressed and led to the military coup, said that he and his family in Myanmar had little optimism that the current uprising would succeed, and they feared that far more lives would be lost.
“The present atrocities are exceedingly worrying. Previous uprisings were put down in 1962 and 1988. In no previous case did the uprising succeed. My family are fearful for the future, knowing the history, and we are not feeling any optimism that people will triumph over the military, as they haven’t in the past.
“I fear that the scope of bloodshed will be even wider, as the population is quite young, a lot of people were not born in 1988, and they only know the slow progress towards democracy under Aung San Suu Kyi. They had begun to enjoy things they could not previously enjoy, and that is not going to be easily given up.”
At least 200 people are believed to have been killed by security forces since the military coup six weeks ago, which deposed Aung San Suu Kyi, who led Myanmar’s elected government (News, 12 February). Mass funerals have been held for those killed by security forces. Food prices are already rising by as much as 35 per cent in some areas, as a result of the protest and a campaign of strikes, and the military government cut off mobile data this week. Thousands have been arrested.
Pope Francis, who visited the country in 2017, appealed on Wednesday for an end to the bloodshed. “Even I kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say ‘Stop the violence.’ Even I open my arms and say ‘Let dialogue prevail.’”
The association for Buddhist monks, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, has also called for an end to violence against protesters, blaming an “armed minority” for torture and the killing of civilians, Reuters reports.
Bishop Hamid, who has Burmese and Scottish heritage, posted a message on Facebook from a cousin in Myanmar who described the violence as a “crime against humanity”, and genocide. He urged the rest of the world not to “turn its eyes away” from what was happening.
The international community, including China and the bloc of south-east Asian countries in ASEAN, needed to hold constructive talks about the crisis, which was more complicated than a straightforward struggle between democracy and authoritarianism, he said.
China has heavily invested in the region, and is building a road and pipeline through Rakhine State — home to the Rohingya people, who were forced to flee for their lives from attacks described as ethnic cleansing by the UN — but, after several Chinese-owned factories were burned this week, it called on the military to stop the violence, punish perpetrators, and protect its people.
Bishop Hamid said that the conflicts in Myanmar dated back decades. “It is difficult to reduce the struggle to between democracy and authoritarianism. The country is riddled with ethnic violence. The Union of Burma needs to be reconceived as a federation that honours the human rights of all peoples.“
Among the mix of conflict is interreligious conflict between majority Buddhist and minority groups, including Christians and Muslims, and geopolitics, given Burma’s strategic location with access to the Bay of Bengal.
The diocese of Winchester has a mission partnership with the Church in Myanmar. The Bishop of Winchester, Dr Tim Dakin, said: “The Winchester diocese has longstanding links with the Church in the Province of Myanmar, and I am in regular contact with Archbishop Stephen. The situation in the country is deeply concerning. We continue to pray for peace and an end to violence, as well as supporting our Christian brothers and sisters who, as a religious minority in the country, are bravely seeking peace, reconciliation, and justice.
“The situation has also impacted their ability to respond to the pandemic. Their voluntary service is greatly needed in a country with limited health services. Our Diocesan Lent Appeal this year is to support Covid-19 response projects in our Companion Links Provinces, including Myanmar.”