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Cardinal urges Aung San Suu Kyi to speak up for Rohingya Muslims

By Sarah Mac Donald - 15 September, 2017

Amid the clamour of calls demanding Myanmar end the suffering of Rohingya Muslims, one prominent Catholic leader in the country has said Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi ought to have spoken out on the plight of the 400,000 who have fled to Bangladesh.

In an interview with TIME magazine, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said the people in Rakhine state face “immense” suffering.

NGOs are warning of a potential catastrophe on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border unless more is done to stem the flow of refugees fleeing military violence. They warn that facilities are not capable of catering to the numbers.

In his comments to TIME magazine, Cardinal Bo stressed that democracy is still very fragile in Myanmar and he warned that stigmatising Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced criticism internationally for not standing up for the Rohingya, will not solve anything.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is walking a tight rope walk,” Cardinal Bo said. “Already dark forces are clamouring for return to army rule,” the prelate warned.

He said a false step will see Aung San Suu Kyi out of government and that would be the end of any dream of democracy.

“We should always remember the army took back democracy three times in the history of Myanmar.”

Cardinal Bo highlighted that problems in Myanmar between the state forces and ethnic minorities dog not just the Rohingya of Rahkine State, but also the Karen, Kachin, and Shan. “All these conflicts threw out thousands as IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees,” Cardinal Bo pointed out.

Pope Francis is due to visit Myanmar in November 2017, the first ever papal visit to the country. He has spoken out repeatedly in support of the Rohingya Muslims.

Separately, the Superior General of the Columban missionaries, a congregation with priests and sisters in Myanmar, has appealed for an end to the violence and violation of human rights of the Rohingya people and expressed hope for their peaceful return to their homes in the Rakhine State of Myanmar/Burma.

In his statement, Fr Kevin O’Neill said the Columban missionaries urge the government of Myanmar/Burma to immediately allow international humanitarian assistance to reach people in need and to seek long-term peace and protection for the Muslim minorities of the Rakhine State and ethnic minorities throughout the country.

“We support the Caritas Internationalis campaign for refugees and migrants, ‘Share the Journey’, which launches 27 September 2017, and hope that it will contribute to a global response of support for the Muslim minorities forced to flee Myanmar/Burma due to violence and persecution,” Fr O’Neill said.

In May 2016 Cardinal Bo, Myanmar’s first cardinal, addressed the British parliament, describing the Rohingya crisis as “an appalling scar on the conscience of my country … No human being deserves to be treated this way. Without [a solution], the prospects for genuine peace and true freedom for my country will be denied, for no-one can sleep easy at night knowing how one particular … group are dying simply due to their race and religion.”

In February 2017, Pope Francis delivered a message of prayer and love for the Rohingya people saying, “They are good and peaceful people. They are our sisters and brothers.”

Columban missionaries share this feeling of unity with all people of good will and faith, according to Fr O’Neill.

A joint statement released by the Catholic National Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan, the President of Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Joseph Coutts and His Excellency Bishop Joseph Arshad, Chairperson of the National Commission for Justice & Peace, pleaded that Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, being a beacon of peace, should ensure the full rights of Rohingya people.

Furthermore, they appealed to the democratic government of Myanmar to immediately intervene by ceasing all military operations in Northern Rakhine State.

Pakistan is estimated to be home to one of the largest Rohingya population outside of Myanmar.

Columban missionaries are present in Myanmar and in Pakistan, working with the local church in carrying out its mission of evangelisation, which includes working for peace, justice and care for creation.

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