Last week the Bishop of Myitkyina, Francis Daw Tang, a respected leader of the catholic Kachin community, issued a strongly worded statement on behalf of his diocese calling for peace and dialogue in Kachin state. The statement was released as the conflict between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Burma's army continues throughout Kachin and parts of north western Shan states.
While acknowledging that the his church is non-political Bishop Francis's statement urged all parties in the Kachin conflict “to return to the peace negotiation, since peace is possible, peace is the only way, knowing that five decades of war has yielded nothing but more hatred, more agony.”
Bishop Francis also went on to call for all parties to address the root causes of the present conflict which include “the favoritism shown to one race and religion and language that opened a festering wound in the cultural heart of many communities that can be healed only by true federalism, a meaningful participation in decision making and the sharing of resources.”
Bishop Francis's statement described the impact of the 20-month conflict in bleak terms. “As a church we walk with our displaced people, watch their life being destroyed by war, their families fragmented by depressing life in the displaced camps.”
The Bishop also said that he and his colleagues are “deeply concerned about the escalation of war in the recent weeks, use of heavy weaponry, aerial bombing, increasing lack of clarity about conflict zones and civilian areas, unequal warfare waged during holy days of our faith, unacceptable conflict practice that force thousands to be displaced exposing children and women to life threatening sickness in the acute winter.”
Bishop Francis's statement called for any future agreement in Kachin state to follow “the consensus arrived at Panglong to accept the 'unity and diversity' principle”, a reference to an agreement made by General Aung San and the leaders of the Kachin and the other ethnic groups just prior to independence.
Aung San died a few months after the Panglong agreement was signed and the clauses which granted a fair amount of autonomy to Burma's ethnic groups were never fully implemented by his civilian successor U Nu.
Although a majority of the Kachin population is Baptist, a sizable minority are Catholic. There are many catholic churches throughout Kachin state including in Myitkyina where Francis Daw Tang is based.
Since the Kachin conflict began in June 2011 an estimated 100,000 civilian have been forced to flee from their homes in Kachin and parts of north western Shan state.
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