A CATHOLIC Mission leader in Australia says he holds “tremendous concern” for the people of Myanmar after a military coup that has resulted in the arrest of civilian leaders, and the cutting of flights and the internet.
The military in Myanmar staged a coup on February 1 and has detained top political leaders, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
The military declared a state of emergency and said General Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for 12 months because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections and because it allowed for an election despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“12 months could easily lead to 12 years in terms of the military’s past performance. Let’s hope not,” Melbourne director of Catholic Mission, Kevin Meese, said.
Military rule in Myanmar lasted from 1962 to 2011 before resuming again with the latest coup.
Mr Meese is the Church’s point of contact for a number of Australian aid projects in Myanmar, that has included building schools, re-establishing teacher training in the largest city, Yangon and intensive teacher training ties with Australian educators.
A seasoned traveller to the troubled South East Asian country during the last two decades Mr Meese has witnessed hard times of suppression under the country’s strict military rulers.
“In the past Catholic Church involvement in education was seen as something quite suspicious because it empowered people… and that is why the whole education system was nationalised,” he said.
“So they (the military) have a track record of pushing back against Church involvement in education.
“There’s no sign at the moment that that’s the case, but it is early days in terms of these latest developments.”
Popular leader Aung San Suu Kyi swept to victory in a national election last November, with her ruling party winning a majority of the available parliamentary seats.
She was upheld as an icon of democracy during years of house arrest under military rule, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
In recent years, she has fallen from grace on the international stage and has even fronted the International Court of Justice over allegations of genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim population.
Starting at 4am on February 1, armoured vehicles began patrolling central Yangon and Naypyitaw, where the inauguration of the new post-election parliament was to have taken place February 2.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on Myanmar’s leaders to “act in the greater interest of Myanmar’s democratic reform, engaging in meaningful dialogue, refraining from violence and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Mr Meese said he had tried unsuccessfully to contact senior Church authorities in Myanmar, including Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon who was visiting the northern state of Kachin for pastoral reasons during the coup.
Cardinal Maung Bo has not made any public comment since Monday, however his auxiliary bishop, has called for prayers.
“We must live in a spirit of vigilance and prayer,” the Auxiliary Bishop of Yangon, John Saw Yaw Han of Yangon told Fides.
Concerned that the situation could become critical, Bishop Saw Yaw Han also called on the Church to “provide food reserves to avoid shortages” and “also take care of stocks of medicines to ensure the health of the people”.
Priests should be particularly vigilant, he said, “and control the people who enter the church complex” for security reasons.
He asked that priests and religious not issue “individual statements” about the current situation, “in order to maintain the unity and coherence of communication” and avoid any “uncertainty and confusion”.
Priests were invited “to oversee liturgical services and encourage all believers to pray intensely for peace in Myanmar”.