The leader of the Catholic Church in Myanmar has appealed to protesters to refrain from violence amid an increasingly brutal military crackdown.
The plea from Cardinal Charles Bo follows reports that a 6-year-old girl was shot dead after security forces raided her family’s home in Mandalay.
In his letter, shared by Aid to the Church in Need, the cardinal acknowledged the temptation to resort to violence in the face of “brutal violence”, but begged them to stick to the path of peace, saying that the peaceful nature of the protest movement had gained the “solidarity” and “admiration” of the international community.
“Heartbroken and frustrated by the violence that you face and by the rising death toll, you wonder if armed struggle may be the better response to the daily repression and brutality that you face,” he wrote.
“I acknowledge your pain, anger and trauma. However, I caution you from going down the path of violent struggle and appeal to you to remain determined and disciplined in non-violence.”
On Tuesday, military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told reporters that 164 protesters had been killed, but figures released by Burma’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners on the same day claim at least 275 deaths.
At least 20 children are reported to have been killed in the violence, including teenager Tun Tun Aung who was shot dead by military on Monday.
Cardinal Bo went on: “All faith traditions adhere to non-violence because all violence is intrinsically evil. Violence brings greater violence.
“I unconditionally condemn all acts of violence against unarmed civilians.
“I continue to support and remain available for all non-violent and peaceful efforts and interventions.
“I am fully committed at all levels to reduce violence in the streets and for the protection of lives.”
The UK has announced targeted sanctions against Myanmar Economic Holdings, owned by the military junta in Myanmar/Burma, and temporarily suspended all promotion of trade with the country. The US has made similar moves.
Benedict Rogers, Senior Analyst for East Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, welcomed the sanctions.
“They represent precisely the targeted measures against the military and its enterprises for which we have long advocated,” he said.
“Only when the military feels real pressure and only when its interests are directly affected will there be any prospect of them re-thinking their current position.
“We need to exert every possible measure targeted at the military to pressure them to step back, restore the democratically elected representatives of the people to their legitimate positions and then begin a process of dialogue and reconciliation to chart a new and inclusive future for the country, one which includes equal rights for all peoples in Myanmar/Burma, genuine democracy for all and a path to meaningful peace.”