Churches urge UK government to help restore democracy in Myanmar

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Churches have issued a joint call to the UK government to do more to find a diplomatic solution in Myanmar a year after the elected government was overthrown.

The military coup triggered a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, with reports of arbitrary killings, arrests and torture, as well as increased restrictions on freedom of expression. 

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials as well as journalists and political prisoners have been imprisoned.

On the first anniversary of the coup, UK Churches are calling for their immediate release from custody and a ceasefire to be agreed between the Tatmadaw - Myanmar's armed forces - and armed militias.

The joint call has been made in a letter to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss by the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the United Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and Baptists Together.  

"Throughout the past twelve months our church partners in Myanmar have reported to us the abuses and atrocities unleashed by the Min Aung Hlaing administration and Tatmadaw forces against their own people," they say.

"The United Nations Officer for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 320,000 people have been internally displaced by the conflict over the last year.

"Several million need humanitarian assistance and without a halt to the violence, the humanitarian need will continue to grow.

"The National Unity Government has drawn support from across ethnic divides and seeks a restoration of democracy.

"Armed militias are forming in several regions and raising the prospect of further violent conflict."

The Church leaders say that given Britain's strong historical ties with Myanmar as a former colony, the Foreign Office should take a leading role in forging an international diplomatic response. 

They also ask for clarification on the UK's plans for further economic sanctions. 

"Two oil companies announced that they will pull out of their long-standing offshore gas operations as they are unable to prevent revenues flowing into the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise," the letter reads.

"In the light of this we would be pleased to learn of the UK Government's current thinking on the application of further sanctions in relation to Myanmar for as long as the military regime continues its attacks and ignores appeals to negotiate or to step down."