CHURCH leaders in the UK have written to the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, calling on the Government to do more for the people of Myanmar, where violence continues to be reported a year after the military coup (Comment, 21 January).
In their letter, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church, and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland urge Ms Truss to put more diplomatic pressure on the military regime.
On 1 February last year, the Burmese military overthrew the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, announcing a state of emergency and imprisoning leaders (News, 5 February 2021). Protests against the coup were violently suppressed, and the UN estimates that about 12,000 people remain in detention. Some 1500 people are believed to have been killed by security forces, and 400,000 people have fled their homes.
The letter, signed by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who is a former MP and MSP, reads: “Throughout the past 12 months our church partners in Myanmar have reported to us the abuses and atrocities unleashed by the Min Aung Hlaing administration and Tatmadaw forces against their own people.
“Several million need humanitarian assistance and without a halt to the violence, the humanitarian need will continue to grow.”
The Methodist Church has received accounts of brutal and indiscriminate violence through its partners in Myanmar. Christians are the second largest religious group in the country. In some states, such as Chin State, they are in the majority.
One partner, who cannot be named for security reasons, told the Methodist Church: “They [the army] continue to arrest civilians, who are tortured, jailed, and some are burned alive. They have burnt down almost all of the houses in Thantlang Town in Chin State. The military use helicopters and jet fighters to defeat the civilians. They burn houses, brake [sic] down houses and take the possessions of the house owners. They have even raided the camps of internally displaced peoples, destroying food and shelters.”
Civilians were trying to fight back using only home-made weapons, the partner said, and there was no longer any functioning medical system.
“All the hospitals and medical centres in the whole country have stopped functioning. The military does not allow the carrying and keeping of medicines by civilians. Very few people can get medical care from the private hospitals, only in the big cities.
“Almost all of the schools and colleges are still closed, because parents will not let their children go to the school because they don’t want the education given by the military government. Another reason is that all the teenagers and young people, including all of the young employees of the government, are taking part in the fighting against the military.” He asked for prayer from fellow Christians.
The Methodist Church’s policy adviser, Steve Hucklesby, said that the humanitarian situation in the country was dire. He urged the UK Government, as the UN Security Council’s lead on Myanmar, to raise the crisis, and to consider targeted sanctions. He said that many expected the “tragic crisis to intensify in 2022, with a substantial loss of life” as the humanitarian situation worsened.
Pope Francis also appealed for reconciliation this week. The world could not “look away in the face of the sufferings of so many brothers and sisters”, he said.
“I join in the appeal of Myanmar’s Bishops urging the international community to work toward reconciliation between the interested parties.”
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Bo, described the country as a “war zone” in a message on the eve of the anniversary of the coup.
He said: “We feel your pain, your suffering, your starvation; we understand your disappointment; we understand your resistance. But to some who believe only in violent resistance, we say ‘There are other means.’”
He urged Christians to be healers: “Let us become the wounded healer, be an instrument of peace; let us light a candle of hope amidst the frustrating darkness.”
Half of the country’s population — about 25 million — now live in poverty, the UN reports.
The secretary-general of the UN, António Guterres, said: “In the past year, there has been an intensification in violence, a deepening of the human rights and humanitarian crises, and a rapid rise of poverty in Myanmar. The multiple vulnerabilities of all people across Myanmar and its regional implications require an urgent response.
“Access to people in need is critically important for the United Nations and partners to continue to deliver on the ground. Armed forces and all stakeholders must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The people of Myanmar need to see concrete results.”