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Church leader calls for end to violence in Myanmar

By United Methodist News Service*
Oct. 1, 2007 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A United Methodist leader has called upon the denomination’s members and partners in mission to advocate against the use of deadly force by the government of Myanmar.

"I urgently call upon all United Methodists and our partners in mission to join in prayer for a just peace and a future of freedom in the country formerly known as Burma," said the Rev. R. Randy Day in a Sept. 29 statement.

"Let us also urge governments that honor human rights to use their influence with Myanmar's government to move toward democratic policies and practices and to refrain from violence in response to the peaceful protestors."

The protests began Aug. 19 against the military regime and grew as Buddhist monks, revered in Myanmar, started leading demonstrations. On Sept. 26, the military began using tear gas, clubbing and firing upon the crowds of demonstrators, with the number of deaths undetermined. One shooting — of Japanese photographer Kenji Nagai — was graphically captured in a front-page Reuters photograph in the Sept. 28 edition of The New York Times. He later died.

United Nations envoy Ibrahim Gambari arrived Sept. 29 in the Southeast Asian country to ask Myanmar's ruling junta to restrain from violence. He met the next day with several junta members and detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and was still trying to meet with the country’s top military leader on Oct. 1, according to The Associated Press.


The Rev. R. Randy Day

Day commended U.S. President George Bush for responding with economic sanctions against high government officials in Myanmar. "China, the chief trading partner of Myanmar, should also take positive action to reduce oppression in Myanmar through economic policy," he added. "We also appeal to the United Nations to exercise all possible avenues to promote non-violence and freedom in Myanmar."

He said Christians with whom the board has had contact in Myanmar say "change is essential, but (they) are hoping for a peaceful, nonviolent transition."

The Methodist Church of Upper Myanmar was founded in Mandalay in 1887 by several British Methodist pastors and later became the Burma district of the British Methodist Conference.

The smaller Methodist Church in Lower Myanmar, founded by U.S. missionaries in the late 1800s, split in 1994, but reunited in 2000 and elected Bishop Zothan Mawia.

Both churches became autonomous when Burma gained independence in 1964. All missionaries left and church-related schools, hospitals and other institutions were nationalized.

Today, the Methodist Church in Upper Myanmar has 16,677 full members and 27,610 "total communities," according to its Web site, with 194 local churches, called societies, in eight districts. The Methodist-related Myanmar Theological College had 97 students during the 2006-2007 school year and is accredited by the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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