Myanmar’s home affairs ministry signaled its willingness on Friday to “take action” against nationalist monks and their supporters who are staging sit-ins in two large cities to protest against the National League for Democracy government.
A group of hard-liners set up camps in front of historic pagodas in Mandalay and Yangon on Wednesday, calling for the overthrow of the 16-month-old administration of de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi for what they say are policies that undermine the country’s majority Burman nationality and the predominant Buddhist religion.
Major General Aung Soe, deputy minister of home affairs — one of the three ministries controlled by the country’s powerful military — told reporters after a parliamentary session in the capital Naypyidaw that authorities will take action against the protesters if the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture files a complaint about them.
“If the religious affairs ministry files a complaint with authorities, there are laws and regulations in place to take action against the protestors,” he said.
“The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has been discussing this with relevant religious organizations,” he said. “Also, the relevant regional governments have been working on it according to laws and regulations.”
The ministry on Thursday issued a statement saying that the monks could stage protests only inside of their monastery compounds and under certain circumstances. It also said the monks could continue protesting if they refused to accept offerings and meals from laypeople.
The statement went on to say that “instigators” were using monks and other protesters to destabilize the country, and that the NLD government supports and protects the Buddhist religion.
The ministry also granted local chapters of the Sangha Maha Nayaka (Ma Ha Na), a government-appointed body that regulates the Buddhist clergy, the authority to deal with the monks, who are staging sit-ins at the Mahamyatmuni Pagoda in Mandalay’s Chanmyathazi township and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
Though the Chanmyathazi township Ma Ha Na ordered the monks and their supporters to move the protest camp to another location on Thursday, they refused.
On Friday, the Mandalay regional government ordered protest leaders to remove their camp from the Mahamyatmuni Pagoda by 10 p.m. local time based on a request by the regional Ma Ha Na.
“We don’t know whether they will remove it or not, but we have to abide by the law if they don’t remove it by reporting the situation to higher level authorities,” said Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Min, Mandalay region’s minister of security and border affairs.
He also said that the monks’ demands are not practical, but rather emotional, and do not represent what most people want.
A boycott, not a protest
Ashin Agga, the hard-line monk leading the sit-in, said the nationalists will not leave the area.
“Because this is not a protest, but a boycott, we don’t have any plan to remove our camp from this place,” he told RFA.
“We have heard that authorities will dismantle our camp tonight,” he said. “The current government is not a military government like the previous one. It is a democratic government. If the NLD government dismantles our camp, then it is not a democratic government anymore; it is a dictatorship.”
Because the NLD government says it is the people’s government or a democratic government, it must hold discussions with the “boycott’s” leadership committee, he said.
Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims, who constitute a minority in Myanmar, have been growing in the country since a major outbreak of communal violence in 2012 during which 200 people were killed and tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state were displaced.
More recent incidents involved a mob stoning to death a Rohingya man in the Buddhist-majority Ywar Gyi Mrauk neighborhood of Sittwe. Six other Rohingya were injured in attack on July 4.
In May, Buddhist monks were involved in a violent confrontation with Muslims in a neighborhood in Mingala Taungnyunt township in the east-central part of Yangon, where they claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding illegally.
Two people were injured during the melee during which police had to fire warning shots into the air to disperse a crowd that had gathered.
In late April, two madrasas, or Islamic schools, were closed in Yangon’s Thaketa township after Buddhist ultranationalists accused Muslim residents of illegally using them for prayer services.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.