MANDALAY, Burma – In the second anti-Muslim protest, Burma Buddhist monks demonstrated on Friday, October 12, against plans to open an office for the largest Islamic organization, saying it would enhance the country’s disunity.
"We already have a problem with unity,” Ashin Wiriya Biwunntha, a monk belonging to the Myawaddy monastery who took part in the Mandalay protest, told Radio Free Asia.
“And if the Organization of Islamic Cooperation opens its office here, the disunity among us will get worse,” he said.
Holding banners reading “No OIC in Myanmar”, the monks gathered in country’s second-largest city of Mandalay to urge the government to block a plan by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference to open an office in the country.
Though the Burmese authorities did not grant permission for the protest, police stood by without incident while the number of participants swelled from 500 to about 2,000 as more monks and laypeople joined the march.
Noting that the Burmese government and parliament have said they are “listening to the people’s voices,” Ashin Wiriya said “We have to express our will so that the government can take action.”
Friday’s anti-Muslim protest was the second in recent weeks in Mandalay involving monks, who were at the vanguard of a 2007 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the former junta.
Earlier in September, thousands of Buddhist monks have marched across Burma to demand the expulsion of Bengali-ethnic Muslims, known as Rohingyas, from the country.
The monks were supporting a suggestion by President Thein Sein that the Muslim minority, numbering close to a million, should be segregated and deported.
Tensions have been high in the country since last June when Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee their homes after ethnic violence rocked the western state of Rakhine.
Human rights groups have accused Burmese police and troops of disproportionate use of force and arrests of Rohingyas in the wake of the riots.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burmese security forces of targeting Rohingya Muslims with killing, rape and arrest following the unrest.
Hundreds of Rohingya men and boys have been rounded up and remain incommunicado in the western region of the country, the group said.
No Muslim Rights
Protesters accused the 57-nation Islamic organization of supporting Rohingya Muslim rights, whom they consider as foreigners.
“We cannot accept the OIC here,” one of the demo leaders, Thaw Bi Ta, told Agence France Presse (AFP) by telephone.
“We will continue our protest until they give up.”
A delegation from the OIC toured Rakhine state in September, after accusations from rights groups that security forces had opened fire on Rohingyas during the June clashes drew condemnation from Muslim communities around the world.
The OIC said on its website last month that it was considering opening a humanitarian assistance office in Rangoon.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingya Muslims are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
The Burmese government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
“The OIC is not working for human rights but for Muslim rights. We have our suspicions about them. They never reject Muslim extremists,” Bi Ta said.
Burma is about 90 percent Buddhist and majority ethnically Burman, but the remaining people are a diverse group of over 100 ethnic and religious minorities.
Treating Buddhism as the state de facto religion, the Buddhist Burman majority was singled out as the trustworthy pillar of national identity.
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