ASIA/MYANMAR - Ethnic minorities, "shooting continues, emergency refugees": the alarm of a Bishop

Banmaw (Agenzia Fides) - The soldiers are still there and continue to shoot and kill; the displaced increase and are desperate; peace with the Kachin ethnic minorities still seems far away: this is the alarm raised by His Exc. Mgr. Raymond Sumlut Gam, Bishop of Banmaw, who indicates in a heartfelt note sent to Agenzia Fides, his concern for the people of his diocese, in the north of Myanmar, which for months has been the scene of fighting between government troops and the "Kachin Independence Army "(KIA). According to official sources, on 10 December, President Thein Sein ordered the army to stop the military offensive against the Kachin (see Fides 1312//2011). The Bishop told Fides: "So far we have not seen any change: heavy fighting continues in remote areas and on the border in the region of Banmaw, where thousands of soldiers, armored vehicles and helicopters are deployed". "Many ethnic Kachin - explains the Bishop - are trapped and blocked along the border, because they are rejected by China. They cannot escape, they are severely suffering and are victims of war". While British Foreign Secretary, William Hague's visit to Myanmar was announced for next January, Msg. Sumlut Gam launches an urgent appeal: "We ask the international community and foreign governments to stop the fighting immediately and to start a path of peace and reconciliation". The first clashes were reported six months ago, after 17 years of cease-fire between the two parties. In early November, the situation worsened because of a major offensive launched by government troops. The number of internally displaced people continues to rise and are currently 57 thousand. Many try to cross the border, others flee to the cities. The conditions of refugees "are very poor, with limited humanitarian assistance" and therefore there are risks of survival, says the Bishop. Banmaw’s Caritas takes care of about 14 thousand displaced people in different camps, with a great commitment on behalf of priests and men and women religious, as the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. The diocese has 29,000 Catholics out of a population of about 400,000 inhabitants (PA) (Agenzia Fides 17/12/2011)