Thai archbishop asks religious leaders to help avert civil war


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Bangkok, Thailand, May 18, 2010 / 08:07 am (CNA).- An intervention of religious leaders could help provide a peaceful solution in Thailand before the possible "catastrophe" of a civil war, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand has said.

Archbishop Louis Chamniern of Thare and Nonseng told Fides news agency that the leaders of different religious communities in the country, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, have "the confidence, credibility, and esteem of the population that today could be very useful in resolving the deadlock and avoiding more violence."

These religious leaders previously met a month ago, publicly voicing support for the common initiatives for dialogue and reconciliation.

According to the Associated Press, five days of clashes over the political direction of the country have killed at least 37 people. The anti-government activists known as the "red shirts" contend that the ruling coalition is illegitimate.

On Monday thousands of "red shirts" were defying government orders to clear out from their encampment in Bangkok, according to CBC News. They remained behind their makeshift barricades.

"We cannot stress enough the point that the only way is dialogue: we need to lay down arms and abandon the violent solution to the crisis," Archbishop Chamniern explained to Fides. "I fear that the country is at the beginning of a civil war that, if it is not stopped, will become a catastrophe."

He warned of "a clear misunderstanding" between the disputing parties.

"Both the factions are determined to win and seek to defend their interests, without considering the rest of the Thai population and the common good," the archbishop continued. "The government accuses the leaders of the 'red' protest to be 'enemies of the crown' and 'traitors,' but this does not seem true to me and it seems a way to discredit the protest in the eyes of the nation."

He advised the Executive Branch of the Thailand government to show more patience and to explore new avenues of dialogue.

"The population, at this time, places greater confidence in religious leaders than in political leaders. And we would be ready to take the field and start working for the good of the country to stop further bloodshed."

At this stage of Thailand's "tragic" history, the archbishop reported, the people are "discouraged and passive."

"There is much fear. The 'Land of Smiles' seems to have become a 'country of pain.' Today we all suffer together and, at this moment, it is like being in a tunnel where you do not yet see a way out."

The Thai archbishop reported that Catholics continue to pray daily and in Sunday Masses for peace in Thailand.

"Today we ask the help and the prayer of the Universal Church to bring back peace and reconciliation to our beloved nation," he told Fides.