23 October 2012
Buddhist monks hold a placard as they protest against the opening of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) offices in Burma, near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on 15 October 2012. (Reuters)
A group of Arakanese monks have called for Rohingya “sympathisers” to be targeted and exposed as “national traitors” while tensions again flare between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma’s westernmost state.
In a document seen by DVB, the All-Arakanese Monks’ Solidarity Conference have urged locals to distribute images of anyone alleged to be supporting the stateless minority group to all townships in the region, potentially opening them up to violent attacks by nationalist extremists.
The ten-point document also calls for the creation of security bodies led by monks intended to enforce and safeguard discipline, “to establish a magazine, covering all of Arakan state, to promote [Buddhist] religion” and renewed calls for the Rohingya to be expelled from Burma.
“The president has been very clear that the Arakan issue should not be seen as a religious one, but if anyone is trying to establish it as a religious issue it’s definitely the monks now,” said Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project.
Lewa, who has recently returned from Arakan state’s capital Sittwe, told DVB that ethnic Arakanese are already terrified of helping any foreigners travelling to the region, and the monks’ move could have a devastating humanitarian impact.
“The Rakhines [Arakanese] are mostly afraid of their own community if they do anything that can be seen to be helping or supporting the Muslim community.”
Ethnic tensions flared again this weekend with reports of casualties following fresh clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Min Bya and Mrauk U townships. A curfew has been imposed in both areas.
Last week, President Thein Sein suspended plans for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to open a humanitarian liaison office in Sittwe, after monks across the country staged mass rallies against the move.
“I am amazed that they arrested peace activists demonstrating in Yangon [Rangoon] over Kachin state, but just allow this promotion of hatred, especially by people like the monks, who would be the best actors to try to calm things down – it seems to be completely unbelievable,” said Lewa.
Many Arakanese monks have repeatedly called on local Buddhists to sever all relations with the Rohingya community, including trade and the provision of humanitarian aid.
“It is deeply depressing to see this kind of intolerance and nationalism on the rise, and going unchallenged by most democratic leaders. The more this kind of extremism goes unchallenged the bolder those promoting hatred and intolerance become,” Mark Farmaner from Burma Campaign UK told DVB.
“Burma is a multi-cultural, multi-racial multi-religion country. If this isn’t recognised and accepted there will be no end to conflict in Burma.”
On Sunday, President Thein Sein reluctantly recognised the need for humanitarian assistance to the conflict-torn state, but only after sustained international pressure.
“We are not in a situation to feed the people in the camps with the help of ordinary citizens so we have to accept humanitarian assistance from the international community,” he said. ”If we do not accept the humanitarian assistance they will say we are not human.”
But despite international pledges of assistance, Lewa says the conditions in the camps for displaced Rohingyas remain “very poor” and are permeated by a “lack of hope”.
Tensions flared in Arakan state after the rape and murder of an ethnic Arakanese woman – allegedly by three Muslims – sparked a series of revenge attacks and communal riots, which killed 87 people and displaced nearly 100,000. Displaced Rohingyas have been segregated in camps away from the Arakanese majority and are unable to travel freely.