Two prominent leaders of Myanmar’s Buddhist and Muslim communities called on Tuesday for security forces to be posted at mosques and monasteries in a bid to prevent outbreaks of communal violence that have left the country reeling since last year.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service following talks with Muslim leader Diamond Shew Kyi at the Kaythayama Monastery in Yangon’s Eastern Dagon township, radical Buddhist monk Wirathu said that they agreed that such an arrangement at places of worship would help prevent religious conflicts.
“Security personnel should be deployed at religious buildings to control religious clashes,” said the monk, who leads the “969” movement calling on Myanmar’s Buddhist majority to boycott Muslim shops and not to fraternize with members of the religion.
Several bouts of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar have killed more than 40 people this year. Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists that rocked western Myanmar’s Rakhine state last year left nearly 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.
Just last month, fresh violence in central Myanmar’s Sagaing region—triggered by reports that a Buddhist woman was sexually assaulted by a Muslim man—left nearly 50 houses burned down and more than 300 people homeless.
Several mosques were destroyed in clashes since last year, but no monasteries have been reported damaged.
In several cases, authorities were blamed by residents and rights organizations for allowing the violence to spiral out of control before acting to quell it.
“The security forces were just standing around and watching the violence in the Rakhine and [central Myanmar’s] Meikhtila clashes. They had to wait for orders from higher officials to control it,” Wirathu said.
“There was much damage and loss in most of the cities where clashes erupted because of the weakness of the security forces.”
The monk, who Time magazine portrayed as an inciter of terrorism against Myanmar’s Muslim minority in a cover story in June, called on members of the nation’s Buddhist and Muslim communities to “refrain from doing anything illegal.”
Violence between Myanmar’s Buddhists and Muslims, who account for some 4 percent of the country's 60-million population, has threatened to derail reformist President Thein Sein’s plans for national reconciliation and democracy following nearly five decades of military rule.
Thein Sein has asked various religious leaders for their help in solving disputes between communities by establishing interfaith groups in every division and state in Myanmar, but tensions remain high.
Homes for refugees
Meanwhile, officials from hard-hit Rakhine state announced Tuesday that Myanmar’s northern neighbor China had donated modular housing to the region to provide relief for the tens of thousands of refugees displaced by the clashes.
Rights groups say the Muslim Rohingyas bore the brunt of the ethnic violence and make up the majority of the now displaced population in Rakhine state.
The shipment of housing units, undertaken with cooperation from Myanmar’s central government, was delivered “a few days ago,” Rakhine state attorney general Hla Thein told RFA.
“The state government intends to use these houses for Bengalis and [Buddhist] Rakhine refugees,” he said, using a commonly used term for Rohingyas in Myanmar which indicates that they have illegally immigrated from neighboring Bangladesh.
“Some villages need clinics, schools, and teachers. We are going to use these houses for those needs.”
The state government also plans to use some of the houses as emergency shelters in areas that are frequently hit by natural disasters, he added.
Around 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas live in Rakhine state, but most of them, according to rights groups, have been denied citizenship as they are considered by most in Myanmar and the government to be illegal immigrants.
Without citizenship, the Rohingyas are denied many basic rights in Myanmar, and the U.N. has referred to the group as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
More than 20,000 Rohingyas are estimated to have fled Myanmar by boat since last year’s violence to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.