Regional and world church bodies urge respect for will of Myanmar people

(Photo: Paul Jeffrey / WCC)Liturgical dancers during the session of the Asia Mission Conference in Yangon, Myanmar, October 2017.

The World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia have issued a joint statement expressing distress and concern over the disturbing trend of continued lethal action against the people by the Myanmar military.

"The death toll of civilians taking part in protests is increasing as troops and police open fire at demonstrators; at least 38 people were reported to be killed as the army unleashed a lethal campaign to suppress protests that have swept the country for more than a month," read the March 4 statement.

"The brutal actions against civilians protesting against the military takeover and the killings perpetrated by the military indicate that the generals are returning to the same tactics they had used to crush people's dissent during decades of military dictatorship in Myanmar."

"The democratically elected civilian government reflects the aspiration of the people," reads the statement. "The will of the people and the outcome of the elections have to be respected and democratic processes must be restored."

The statement came on the day the head of the UN Human Rights office Miihcelle Bachelet delivered a withering criticism of the military junta's crackdown in Myanmar, which is called Burma by the U.S. government.

Myanmar's security forces must "halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protestors," the UN human rights chief said on March 4.

"Myanmar's military must stop murdering and jailing protestors," said Bachelet.

"It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country," she added.

"The UN Human Rights Office has corroborated information that police and military officers have killed at least 54 people since the Feb. 1 coup," said the statement, adding the actual death toll could be much higher as these are the verified figures.

The churches statement, meanwhile notes that citizens peacefully protesting against the military action have been confronted by armed forces using lethal force.

"In order to clamp down on what is essentially a people's movement, the security forces have systematically targeted, detained, and arrested several political officials, activists, students, medical professionals, and even religious minority leaders," say the churches.

"In Lashio city, four Kachin Baptist ministers were among 10 people arrested at a church where protestors fleeing the state-sanctioned violence had taken shelter."

Large-scale participation in demonstrations in towns and cities across the country underscores the broad rejection of the military, the statement continues.

The statement denounces the Feb. 1 military coup which has now returned full power to the generals.

"The citizens of Myanmar possess the right to assemble peacefully and express their demands for the restoration of democracy," reads the statement.

"The fundamental rights of people must be respected, and hence the military authorities must immediately halt all use of force against civilians."

The statement also urges military leaders to refrain from repressive actions against the civilians.

The statement concludes with a call for prayers for the entire people of Myanmar and for peace and justice to prevail throughout the country. "May peace and a spirit of reconciliation return to Myanmar," the statement concludes.

Buddhist account for some 88 percent of the country's 57 milliojn people while just ocer 6 percent are Christians and more than 4 percent Muslims.

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