Speaking at a mass interfaith gathering on Tuesday, the head of the Rangoon archdiocese denounced the international community’s criticism of Burma over the ongoing Arakan crisis and asked for international support as the country works to resolve the issues blighting its westernmost state.
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo told the crowd at an interfaith prayer vigil in Rangoon that the international community should strive to understand the current situation in northern Arakan State and also cease criticism of Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Some have said that they will revoke the awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize, from Aung San Suu Kyi. I would like to say to them that Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t ask for these awards and Burmese people won’t be angry if they revoke all the awards. They cannot take away Burma’s love for her,” he said.
The remarks come as the Vatican prepares for a first-ever papal visit to Burma. Pope Francis is due to visit the country at the end of November — a highly anticipated event, especially given his outspoken advocacy for Arakan State’s Rohingya Muslims.
In the weeks since a 25 August attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militant group on several police outposts in northern Arakan State, more than half a million Muslims have reportedly fled to Bangladesh, setting off international outcry largely focused on the Burmese military’s heavy-handed counterinsurgency campaign that has followed.
The United Nations’ top human rights official has described the ongoing crisis as “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya — a characterisation that the Burmese government rejects, saying its security operations are lawful and in the interest of protecting the country.
Thousands of people attended Tuesday’s rally at Aung San Stadium in Rangoon, billed as an inter-religious gathering of prayers for the peace and stability of Burma and its citizens, which was organised by the National League for Democracy (NLD).
The ruling party has instructed its branch offices in Burma’s states and divisions to hold interfaith prayer events nationwide this month and the Rangoon Division’s NLD office kicked off that campaign on Tuesday.
Phyo Min Thein, the chief minister of Rangoon Division, told Tuesday’s attendees that he would pray for the international community’s support and understanding with regard to the situation in Arakan State and Burma more broadly.
“Today, we have showed the international community that Burma is a country where different religions co-exist peacefully,” he said.
Buddhist monks joined leaders of minority religions — Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others — as well as members of the Rangoon Division legislature, foreign ambassadors, civil society organisations and interfaith activists at the Tuesday evening rally.
Sayadaw Bhaddanta Iddhibala, who chairs the Rangoon chapter of Burma’s highest Buddhist authority, told event attendees that the Arakan crisis had affected everyone in Burma, saying the mind-sets of all people needed to be peaceful in order to reduce tensions among the country’s various faith communities.
“Good minds produce good things,” said the monk.
Mufti Ali, a Muslim leader in attendance, echoed that sentiment.
“Even if someone attacks you, you must respond with good intentions. Then, peace will prevail across every faith. It is important that we see humans simply as humans” regardless of status, race or religion, he said.