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By Eunsun Cho
February 10, 2016

The ongoing religious tension fueled by extremism may become a substantial threat to Myanmar’s democracy.

With a new parliament sworn in and the date for selecting a new president fast approaching, Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD) is now tasked with laying the foundation for the country’s democratic development. At the heart of this challenge lies curbing religious extremism and integrating the Muslim Rohingya minority into Burmese society.

BUDDING BUDDHIST EXTREMISM

In the last few years, Buddhist extremism has gained momentum in Myanmar. Ma Ba Tha, an anti-Muslim group of Buddhist monks, in many ways surpasses its predecessor, the 969 Movement. If the 969 Movement was a loose network of anti-Muslim monks, Ma Ba Tha is a well-structured organization with regional chapters and a TV channel to broadcast its sermons. Experts in politics, law and technology offer professional assistance for the group’s activities, such as drafting bills that ban inter-religious marriage and require government approval for religious conversion, as well as fiercely lobbying until they are passed into law. Ma Ba Tha also maintains close relationships with government and military officials who attend the group’s events and openly defend hate speech against Muslims.

A more worrisome indication of the group’s influence, however, is that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are willing to yield to its demands. Leading up to the 2015 election, the party canceled its event after dozens of monks protested against scheduled speeches of Muslim speakers. Members of the NLD admit that the party intentionally did not nominate Muslim candidates in order to avoid a possible backlash from hardline Buddhists.

The rhetoric of Ma Ba Tha does not differ too much from that of other extremists elsewhere in the world. The group’s sermons provoke fear of Muslims by characterizing Islam as an existential threat to Myanmar, claiming that Muslims are “mad dogs” and “want to kill [Buddhists] with swords.” The group also attacks its critics through an “us vs them” dichotomy, using the term “Islamist traitors.” Human rights group members have received death threats from Ma Ba Tha for criticizing discriminatory legislations, and the group accuses the NLD and Suu Kyi of being Islamist.

It is unlikely that Burmese people are aware of the mismatch between this anti-pluralist message and the nation’s progress toward democracy. A 2014 survey shows that the majority of the public has yet to associate democracy with equality, and 35% think that unpopular political parties should not be allowed to hold meetings. An even greater number—41%—said they would sever ties with friends who joined unpopular parties.

FOMENTING ANIMOSITY

If we think about how fear and hatred can make people give up liberty and reject equality even in advanced democracies, the fomenting of animosity in the fledgling democracy of Myanmar comes as a considerable concern.

Further, violence on one side often sows seeds of radicalization on the other. Currently, the Rohingya—who are segregated, denied citizenship and subject to state-sponsored violence—do not have any means to make their voices heard. But it is unrealistic to expect them to remain forever victimized and stigmatized; the long, still-expanding list of worldwide riots, wars and terrorist activities motivated by ethnic and religious tensions suggests otherwise.

Even though no organized resistance occurs, small incidents—whether inspired or coordinated—can lead to largescale violence. This has already happened in 2012, when a rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslim men, snowballed into sectarian violence that resulted in more than 200 deaths and a mass displacement of 140,000 people125,000 of whom were Muslim.

The presence of fearmongering agitators is an obstacle to development as well, since it distracts both the government and the people from other important issues. Myanmar has multiple social and economic maladies to deal with—from short life expectancy and low education level to stagnating labor productivity and crippled infrastructure. Political reform and ethnic reconciliation are two other long-term projects that the new government should embark on.

Worse still, in the process of tackling these issues, the NLD has to negotiate with the military, which still occupies a quarter of the seats in parliament and controls key industrial resources. In such a situation when the government needs to shore up maximum effort and public support, escalating ethnic tensions will only drain valuable resources.

INTER-RELIGIOUS PEACE

Of course, a great number of monks have opposed military rule and called for inter-religious peace. But many of them have lost ground due to arrests, exile and criticism from within the clergy for not being “true Buddhists.” Only too aware of this fact, extremists try to recruit these monks by offering money and support. In fact, when even leaders like Suu Kyi, beloved and honored home and abroad, tell people not to “exaggerate” the Rohingya problem, there are not many who can stand up and carry the burden of openly denouncing violence against the religious minority.

It may have been partially inevitable that Suu Kyi and the NLD refrained from speaking on the Rohingya issue, since winning a majority in parliament was the utmost priority until the election. But such a position should only be a temporary political strategy. Continued apathy toward systemic violence and yielding to the demands of groups like Ma Ba Tha give the wrong signal to the public that certain religious or ethnic groups deserve alienation and subjugation.

An NLD leader once said that the party has many urgent tasks to prioritize over the Rohingya problem, such as “peace, the peaceful transition of power, economic development and constitutional reform.” However, something that NLD leaders are overlooking is the potential danger that racial tension tangled with religious extremism poses to Myanmar’s development. Although the problem is not something that can be solved in a short period of time, the government should put all of its effort into making sure that the current humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya does not evolve into a substantial obstacle to the country’s future.


Rohingya refugees in Jammu (Photo by Umar Shah via UCA News)

By Shiv Sahay Singh
February 10, 2016

The Rohingya refugee crisis has become a “regional issue involving countries of South and Southeast Asia,” a recent report on the community said, putting the number of Rohingyas living in India at 40,000-50,000.

The report, ‘Rohingyas: The Emergence of a Stateless Community,’ prepared by Calcutta Research Group, an independent research organisation, says that the number of families settled in different Indian States is 10,565. According to the latest data, 6,684 families of the community have settled in Jammu and Kashmir, 1,755 in Andhra Pradesh, 760 in Delhi and 361 in West Bengal.

It says 32,000 Rohingyas registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are residing in Bangladesh, and three-five lakh people of the community live outside the formal camps in that country.

“At a time when the refugees crisis is spreading over Europe, we, in Southeast Asia, are not aware of a similar crisis closer to home involving the Rohingyas,” Sabyasachi Basu Ray Choudhury, Vice-Chancellor of Rabindra Bharati University and one of the editors of the report, told The Hindu. Ranabir Samaddar, an expert in migration and post-migration, is also an editor of the report.

Interviews with the community members recorded in the report suggest the Rohingyas crossing over from Bangladesh to India prefer the camps in Jammu, Hyderabad and Delhi for better economic opportunities. “In West Bengal, there is no fixed settlement area for Rohingyas. The largest identifiable number is concentrated in correctional homes,” the report says.

Researchers who have painstakingly interviewed those from the families incarcerated have listed the “disintegration of the refugee family” and the accompanying trauma as one of the major observations of the report. Even refugee cards issued by the UNHRC are not accepted as a valid document in West Bengal, and Rohingyas are put behind bars.

Rohingya refugess in Langkat, North Sumatra, on May 17, 2015 (Antara/Irsan Mulyadi)

February 10, 2016

Aceh fishermen are nominated to receive the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) for rescuing hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh in Indonesian waters.

Geutanyoe Foundation international director Lilianne Fan said the organization had submitted the fishermen as candidates to receive the award in recognition of their services to save many lives of those who were stranded at sea.

"If they hadn’t been rescued by the Aceh fishermen, the lives of the children and the Rohingnya people and Bangladeshis may not have been saved," Fan said on Wednesday as quoted by news agency Antara.

According to a statement on its website, the UNCHR once a year awards the Nansen Refugee Award to an individual, group of people or an organization to honor extraordinary service to refugees and outstanding work on behalf of the forcibly displaced. The UN body focuses on giving assistance to refugees as well as providing education for the children of the displaced in various countries.

Fan said the Aceh fishermen exemplified concrete humanitarian action in saving the lives of the refugees without exhibiting racial or ethnic bias.

The number of Rohingya refugees currently residing in the Aceh province has reportedly fallen to be 350 from the initial 1,010 people.

The refugees currently live in shelters located in Kuala Langsa harbor, in the town of Langsa, and also camps in Bayeun village in East Aceh and Blang Ado village in North Aceh.

The Geutanyoe Foundation is an Aceh-based NGO that focuses on humanitarian issues.

The foundation has been working with the fishermen and focuses on helping the refugees improve their living conditions and create social and livelihood programs in their camps in Aceh. 

By Nyan Lynn Aung
February 9, 2016

The Myanmar Times’ Nyan Lynn Aung interviews U Nyi Pu, National League for Democracy’s chair for Rakhine State and a Pyithu Hluttaw representative from Gwa township constituency 2, also rumoured to be in line for the state chief minister’s post.

The National League for Democracy did not win a large number of votes in Rakhine State and most seats went to the third-largest party in the country, the Arakan National Party (ANP). How do you think the two parties will be able to negotiate?

NLD MP U Nyi Pu speaks to The Myanmar Times on February 7. Photo: Aung Myin Yee Zaw / The Myanmar Times

Since the beginning, before and after the election, we have said that we would cooperate and negotiate with ethnic parties. But some people wrongly interpreted what we said and accused the NLD of not offering negotiations and deceiving people. In fact, the NLD always opens the door [to negotiations]. They [other parties] have to show their willingness to engage [and tell us] which type of negotiation they want or what kind of topic they want to discuss.

Do you think the appointment of the state chief minister will be a problem in Rakhine State?

In my opinion, there is no significant problem. There are laws and by-laws for this. When the NLD heads the central government, the state government structure and minister appointment process will go as usual.

Former chief minister U Maung Maung Ohn had the backing of the military while dealing with problems, and was even able to travel by helicopter in the state. Who do you think will be more effective dealing with problems – a military-backed minister or a civilian-backed minister?

I believe that the people prefer the civilian government they elected over a government backed by the military.

What are the main challenges in Rakhine State for human rights and nationalism? How should these issues be balanced?

From my point of view, the first point is stability. The second point is the leadership of the government and the development of the region. For stability, there are many questions. Instability occurred in the state previously for various reasons. Who did it and why did they do it? Did they do it for political reasons, or for their own interest? Is it real nationalism? It is too early to answer these questions at the moment.

But if an inclusive government, elected by our people, leads the government, the situation will change. There will be no repetition. People don’t want to see loss and suffering. I think they are now working for development. So, creating stability is a possibility now, more than before.

Another important issue in Rakhine State is security, because the west coastal line is long and security is still weak. What is your plan for this when you are in the parliament?

There are a host of important issues in the region. Rakhine State is pretty unusual compared to other areas. Besides, the state’s economic development is extremely low. There are many things we have to work on to improve the situation.

We have to set the first priority and then a second in order to settle these problems. Some cases we will have to settle carefully, others more evidently. We will have to do it so that we can see change as quickly as possible. Other things, we will have to think twice to change them.

Security, regional development and the economic sector will be the main sectors to work on.

Do you have any further comments?

As everybody knows, significant changes can be seen in our country. There will be opportunities for us due to the changes we have seen. We all need to appreciate the situation and see the positive consequences of these changes. If not, anything we strived for will be ruined and the precious changes will not have any value.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe and Thiri Min Htun

Rohingya children in a temporary internally displaced personscamp near Sittwe, Rakhine State's capital city, in October, 2015. (Photo by Michael Sainsbury)

By John Zaw
February 9, 2016

Myanmar's controversial 1982 citizenship laws set to come under microscope with new government

Hard-line Buddhists in Myanmar have concerns that Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) government will bow to international pressure and amend the country's controversial 1982 citizenship law, opening the door for up to 1 million Muslim Rohingyas to be granted full rights.

The 1982 law says that only ethnic nationalities, and others whose families entered the country before 1823, are entitled to Myanmar's citizenship.

The current government and the Buddhist Rakhine community do not recognize the Rohingya as one of the country's official ethnic groups, instead identifying them as 'Bengali' because they are considered illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Pe Than, a lower house member of parliament from the hard-line Buddhist Arakan National Party, said that the NLD-dominated parliament is likely to prioritize amending the 1982 citizenship law because of pressure from the international community and rights groups.

"We are ready to fight back on it as we have vehemently called for not amending the law because we need to scrutinize illegal migrants," Pe Than told ucanews.com. "And we also need to consider our race, sovereignty and security." His party won dozens of state and federal seats in Rakhine state where the vast majority of Rohingyas live.

Tun Tun Hein, a member of the NLD central committee, said he was aware of concerns raised by some groups but claimed party leaders had not yet discussed the 1982 citizenship law.

"There are many citizenship laws in the country and we need to observe all laws and consider whether all are needed," Tun Tun Hein, who is the new head of the lower house's bill committee said.

Shay Ray Shu Maung, a Catholic and upper house NLD member of parliament from Kayah state said: "We need to discuss with legal experts and listen to the voices of people on amending the 1982 citizenship law."

While temporary "white card" identity documents had allowed Rohingya to vote in previous polls, the government revoked these documents earlier this year. This effectively disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.

When the state parliament in Rakhine was convened Feb. 8, two Arakan National Party members were chosen as speaker and deputy speaker, giving the party some legislative power.

Kyaw Hla Aung, a former aid worker in Thetkaepyin, a camp for displaced Rohingya near Sittwe, said that he doesn't accept the 1982 citizenship law as meaning Rohingya Muslims can't be a citizen of Myanmar.

"Rakhine people don't want Muslims to stay in Rakhine state so they are pushing for sticking to the controversial citizenship law. But this is the legacy of the former military dictatorship, Gen. Ne Win and the law must be all inclusive and not discriminate against a religious minority," Kyaw Hla Aung told ucanews.com.

Hard-line Buddhist monks from the Committee of the Protection of Race and Religion, known as Ma Ba Tha, have been at the forefront of the anti-Rohingya campaign. The monks have pushed for legislation of four race and religion laws that target the minority.

U Parmaukkha, a committee member, said he has no concern that the government would abolish the four religion laws.

"These laws aim to protect our own race and religion and don't attack other religions. So it was necessary to enact them," U Parmakkha told ucanews.com.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein prepares to deliver a speech to the National Assembly in Naypyidaw, Jan. 28, 2016. (Photo: RFA)

February 9, 2016

Myanmar's President Thein Sein called on lawmakers on Monday to safeguard the country’s constitution by amending or nullifying existing laws only in accordance with the charter’s terms.

The move comes amid widespread local media reports that the new National League for Democracy (NLD) party-led parliament could soon suspend a provision barring pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming president.

Thein Sein’s comment came a day after two pro-government television channels—Sky Net and Myanmar National Television—reported that “positive results” could come from negotiations between NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing about the suspension of Article 59(f).

The article in the 2008 constitution, which was drafted when a military junta ruled the country, bars anyone with foreign spouses or children from becoming president. This includes Aung San Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won the Nov. 8 general elections by a landslide, has said that she will operate above the president, who will likely be another NLD politician.

However, she has yet to specify anyone for the post or explain how she will run the government through a proxy.

Last year, she spearheaded constitutional amendments to abolish Article 59(f) and lower the voting threshold for changing the constitution from 75 percent to 70 percent of the total members of parliament, but lawmakers rejected them.

Military lawmakers, who hold a constitutionally guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats, control an effective veto over constitutional changes.

Military approval required

Brigadier General Tin San Naing, spokesman of the military bloc in parliament, told Reuters on Monday that there had been no discussions between the NLD and army to suspend Article 59(f) to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to become president.

He said the article could not be suspended but only amended with the military’s approval.

In his latest official message, Thein Sein expressed his concern about the issue, saying the country’s highest legislative body must safeguard the constitution whenever it prepares to amend any law because the members of parliament (MPs) have sworn to protect it.

He also said the country, which is on the right path for democracy and development, owes its success to the 2008 constitution.

His comment comes as lawmakers prepare to propose and vote on presidential candidates on March 17. On that day, parliament’s upper house, lower house and military representatives will each put forth a presidential nominee and cast votes. The winner will assume the presidency, while the other two become vice presidents.

Reported by Win Naing Toe for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

A Rakhine National Party election campaign rally in Yangon, October 25, 2015. (Ye Aung Thu / AFP)

February 9, 2016

NAY PYI TAW — The Rakhine State parliament in Sittwe has elected as its speaker a lawmaker with ties to an insurgent army currently battling against Myanmar’s military.

State lawmakers have confirmed to Frontier a parliamentary vote on Monday morning to appoint as speaker U San Kyaw Hla, a lawmaker representing Ponnagyun for the Rakhine National Party and father-in-law of Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing, the chief of the Arakan Army.

Along with four other ethnic armed groups, the Arakan Army was barred by the government from participating in last year’s National Ceasefire Agreement due to ongoing hostilities. With an estimated fighting force of 1,500, the Arakan Army has received training support from the Kachin Independence Army in Myanmar’s north, and was involved in numerous skirmishes with Tatmadaw troops in Rakhine State last year. Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing is believed to reside in Laiza, the KIA’s headquarters.

More than 200 people were displaced during the most recent round of clashes in Kyauktaw township. In response, the military has said it would “eliminate the Arakan Army” in an announcement carried by state-run media last month.

Monday’s parliamentary session in Sittwe, the first in which the winners of last November’s election took their seats, also elected the RNP’s U Phone Minn as deputy speaker.

The appointment of a chief minister for Rakhine State remains on the agenda. Under the terms of the 2008 Constitution, Myanmar’s president has the sole authority to appoint regional government heads.

Despite being the largest party in the Sittwe legislature, winning 22 of the state’s 35 elected seats, the RNP is several seats short of a majority, owing to the 12-strong bloc of military appointees. The party has lost one seat after U Hla Aung Nyunt, the MP-elect for Minbya-2, was convicted of trespassing and harassing a woman working for a rival candidate of the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The National League for Democracy, which sent eight lawmakers to the Sittwe parliament, has put forward NLD lawmaker U Nyi Bu as the party’s chief minister candidate. In response, the RNP has threatened to boycott the parliament unless one of its members is appointed chief minister.

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
February 9, 2016

Wirathu and his band of criminal Buddhist monks have hijacked Buddhism and poisoned the political discourse inside Myanmar. Ma Ba Tha uses the news of the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman allegedly by Rohingya Muslims in Arakan in 2012 to paint a very damning picture of the divide between "us" and "them". And such a nasty propaganda, a false one, which I must remind our readers, has worked because people are always willing to believe the worst about one's enemies if they are programmed as such.

For too long, in the context of Burma, her various ethnic and racial groups were poisoned to hate each other, which only helped the divisive forces inside, let alone the military that ruled the fractured country with strong arms tactics and brutal strategy. Wirathu and the hateful, xenophobic monks like him were used as the willing partners to prolong this environment of hatred and intolerance against the minority Muslims, esp. the Rohingya people, and strengthen the grip of the military that ruled and other divisive forces within the country to arrest a change for the better in the political scene.

Fortunately, even though most Muslims were barred from voting and participating in the latest election process, people inside Myanmar have spoken loud and clear. They have rejected the criminal messengers and propagators of hatred and dehumanization.

It is high time to stop Ma Ba Tha once and for all time. This would require not only serious efforts within the movers and shakers within the poisoned society, esp. those with some authority, e.g., the NLD and various political parties that represent the very mosaic of this diverse country but also a brave intelligentsia that knows its historical role to correct the wrongs and create an environment of inclusion, tolerance and hope.

Surely, such an endeavor is never going to be an easy one, but we can all try our best with our limited resources to make that happen, and multiply our voices as change agents for the better.

This process can start by educating the broader public about the falsity of the very narrative that Ma Ba Tha has been exploiting to poison Myanmar. If I recall correctly, Dr. Maung Zarni was able to expose that there is no truth to the claim that the Rakhine Buddhist woman was raped and killed by Rohingya Muslim(s). He wrote that “the rape narrative of the Rakhine woman - the late Ma Thida Htwe - raped by 'Bengali men' was patently false, but spread by President Thein Sein's men the likes of Major Zaw Htay (Hmu Zaw), Colonel Ye Htut (now deputy information minister) as a trigger event to set the fire of genocidal hatred towards the Muslims. Ma Thida Htwe was NOT raped but was simply murdered - the doctor who examined her body told Ko Zaganar [a popular comedian], in no uncertain terms, that there was absolutely no evidence of rape on Ma Thida Htwe's dead body. The doctor was forced to sign the medical report which claims falsely she was raped. The rape story was spread by government agents on the social media and was used as a launching pad to start waves of mass killings against the Rohingya and the Muslims across Burma or Myanmar.” “Within a month of his death - when [Maung Thura[ Zaganar attempted to meet Htet Htet's wife,” writes Dr. Zarni in his blog, “she was found dead in a village well. How convenient!” It is believed amongst the independent analysts that NASAKA security forces killed Ma Thida Htwe and possibly Htet Htet’s wife.

As subsequent inquiries have proven most of the anti-Muslim pogroms and genocidal activities inside Burma (or Myanmar) owed their origin to the government – central and local. These crimes were sometimes scripted and often times sanctioned by the government.

I can only pray and hope that the upcoming NLD government will take a different course than its predecessors thereby making the country a safe and secure one for all its people – Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.

February 8, 2016

Negotiations between the NLD leader and Myanmar’s military to remove a clause that bars her from becoming president reported to be going well

Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from becoming president because of a clause that says no one with a foreign spouse or child can rule the country. Photograph: Hein Htet/EPA

Two pro-government television channels in Myanmar have reported that “positive results” could come out of negotiations between the military chief and Aung San Suu Kyi on suspending a constitutional clause that prevents her from becoming the president.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won a landslide victory in the 8 November general elections. However, she is barred from becoming president because of the Constitution’s Article 59 (f), which says anyone with a foreign spouse or children cannot hold the executive office. Suu Kyi’s late husband was British, as are her two sons.

In separate but identical broadcasts late on Sunday, Sky Net and Myanmar National Television said “positive results could come out on the negotiation for the suspension of the constitution Article 59 (f).”

Suu Kyi has been negotiating with commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing on having the clause suspended, which can be legally removed only through a two-thirds vote in parliament. The military holds 25% of the nominated seats in parliament, which means the NLD cannot scrap the clause on its own.

“I think everything will be fine,” Kyaw Htwe, a member of Central Committee of the NLD, said. “The negotiations will be positive for our leader Aung San Suu Kyi to become president,” said Kyaw Htwe, who is also a member of parliament.

But Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, advised caution.

“It is still too early to confirm that Suu Kyi will be among the presidential candidate,” he said. “Even the suspension and the constitutional amendment will take time. And we cannot really comment relying only on a short announcement on TV,” he said.

Suu Kyi has said previously that even if she doesn’t become the president she would run the country from behind the scenes. But clearly, the NLD would prefer the 70-year-old icon of democracy to lead the country, having struggled almost all her life for it.

On Friday, a legal advisory committee consisting of experts and members of the lower house was launched, led by Shwe Mann, the former head of the military-tied Union Solidarity and Development Party. One of the few Suu Kyi allies in the defeated ruling party, Shwe Mann is believed to be supportive of a constitutional change.

Although national elections were in November, the president does not take office until 31 March or 1 April 1 because of a long-winded selection process.

The new members of parliament took their oaths of office only this month. Next, they will announce the date of meetings to pick three nominees for the post of president through a vote by all members of parliament. It is not known when the vote will take place.

(Photo: NLD Chairperson Facebook)

By Esther Htusan
February 8, 2016

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar -- The names of Myanmar's next president and two vice presidents will be revealed on March 17, an official said Monday, setting a clear timeline for the transition of power from a military-controlled government to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's party.

Parliament chairman Mann Win Khaing Than announced that the upper house, the lower House and the military will have to select one candidate each for the three posts before March 17, and submit them to parliament on that day.

While Suu Kyi herself is barred from becoming president, there are growing signs that her talks with the military to remove a constitutional hurdle blocking her path can be completed by March 17.

Once the three names are put before the 664-member parliament, all members will take a vote. The person with the largest number of votes will become president, and the other two will be vice presidents. It isn't clear when the vote will take place, but the current president's term ends March 31 and the successor must take office April 1.

Given that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party has a majority in both houses of parliament, it is certain to get the president's post and one of the vice presidential positions.

The NLD won a landslide victory in the Nov. 8 general elections. But Suu Kyi has been stymied by the Constitution's Article 59 (f), which says anyone with a foreign spouse or children cannot hold the executive office. Suu Kyi's late husband was British as are her two sons.

Still, she has been negotiating with commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on having the clause suspended. The clause can be legally scrapped only through a 75 percent plus one vote in Parliament. The military holds 25 percent of seats in parliament — all unelected — which means the NLD cannot scrap the clause on its own. However, the clause can be suspended by a simple majority, but because all this is uncharted territory nobody is sure if that would be allowed.

In separate but identical broadcasts late Sunday, Sky Net and Myanmar National Television, both pro-government, said "positive results could come out on the negotiation for the suspension of the constitution Article 59 (f)."

"I think everything will be fine," Kyaw Htwe, a senior member of the NLD, told The Associated Press. "The negotiations will be positive for our leader Aung San Suu Kyi to become president," said Kyaw Htwe, who is also a member of parliament.

But Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst, advised caution.

"It is still too early to confirm that Suu Kyi will be among the presidential candidate," he said. "Even the suspension and the constitutional amendment will take time. And we cannot really comment relying only on a short announcement on TV," he said.

Suu Kyi has said previously that even if she doesn't become the president she would run the country from behind the scenes. But clearly, the NLD would prefer that the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate lead the country, having struggled almost all her adult life for it.

On Monday, Suu Kyi entered the parliament without commenting to the media. Watching the joint session of parliament as an observer was influential former general Shwe Mann, the former speaker of the lower house in the outgoing government and now a Suu Kyi ally. He is believed to be supportive of a constitutional change and is thought to be trying to broker a deal to allow her to become president.

Myanmar was ruled with an iron fist by the military for 50 years until it stood back in 2010 to allow a quasi-civilian government to take over. In that time Suu Kyi was their chief adversary, defying them even while under house arrest for many years. The enmity still lingers, but the generals are thought to have invested too much in putting the country on the path to a civilian government to risk a pull back now.

February 8, 2016




The democracy movement of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is negotiating with Myanmar’s military over the composition of the next government.

(Photo: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters)

By Kavi Chongkittavorn
February 8, 2016

Myanmar has now become Thailand’s most pivotal neighbouring country following its recent election won overwhelming by the opposition party, the National League for Democracy, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The reason behind this impression is quite simple: Thailand has no idea what could be coming with the new administration in Nay Pyi Taw.

After all, its western neighbour has maintained the same pattern of behaviour and response for the past six decades. It has been only in recent years under the government of President U Thein Sein that the Thai-Myanmar relationship took a positive turnaround.

From now on, this situation could change. It remains to be seen how the incoming government's policy and practices will impact on broader Thailand-Myanmar relations.

Judging from the limited information available from open sources ahead of the government's policy announcement, overall Thai-Myanmar relations could remain intact with some modifications on issues concerning the livelihood of Myanmar people along the border and those working in Thailand. Top of the agenda are two issues: the terms of reference for the mega-project in the special economic development zone in Dawei, and the fate of the estimated four million plus Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. At the very least social protection and benefits on all people involved must be improved. Daw Suu made these points when she first visited Thailand in November 2012. Since 1962, after General Ne Win seized power, Thailand has never had normal relations with Myanmar, which shares a 2,401-kilometre common border. The main attribute was the lack of trust by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar's military) about the Thai military. Nay Pyi Taw believed fervently that Thailand secretly backed the warring minorities to undermine the central government. Bangkok vehemently denied such allegations, but to no avail.

Throughout these intervening years, practically all bilateral engagements were conditioned on the Thai side's willingness to assist the Tatmatdaw in cracking down on the armed ethnic groups in exchange for cooperation on fighting drugs, trafficking and smuggling along the porous border. The outcome of these efforts was not satisfactory.

However, bilateral ties have improved significantly in the past two years when the Thai side began to seriously crack down on illegal fishing, slave labour, human trafficking in response to growing pressure from the US and EU. Last year, Thailand was listed in Tier 3 on the US State Department's annual report on human trafficking, and also appeared on the EU watchlist on illegal fishing.

Thailand submitted this year's report to Washington in mid-January with details of prosecution of culprits involved in human trafficking and slave labour. Last year, 29 officials were arrested and face both disciplinary and criminal charges for complicity in trafficking. Compared with the previous two years, overall human trafficking and slave labour situations in Thailand have improved greatly due to better policy coordination among agencies and speedier prosecution of perpetrators. But, Washington will have the final say on whether Thailand's status is to be upgraded.

After the May 2014 coup, the government set up a special task force to work on tangible ways to improve these much reported and horrible conditions in Thailand.

Last year a budget of nearly Bt2.6 billion (or US$71.95 million) was allocated to stop human trafficking and illegal labour. Former President Thein Sein personally thanked General Prayut Chan-o-cha when he visited Nay Pyi Taw in October for the improvement in Myanmar workers' welfare. Obviously, more could be done on the Thai side to ensure that rights of workers are fully protected, as well as boosting living conditions for them and their spouses. Thailand welcomes and needs migrant workers with proper documentation, but rampaging corruption and malpractice are still plagues the registration process.

As the political transition continues in Myanmar, Thailand is hopeful that with cooperation between the Tatmadaw and the NLD administration, policies towards Thailand will be maintained to a certain degree. After the election, both General Min Aung Hlaing and Daw Suu met to achieve a smooth transfer of power. Their mutual trust also rendered positive impacts on Thailand-Myanmar ties, as the general has close links with Thai leaders.

When the peace accord was signed by eight armed ethnic groups in October, Thailand was invited to sign as one of the witnesses to this two-year peace process. It was a sign that the behind-the-scenes role by Thailand was well recognised by all stakeholders. Armed minorities straddling the Thai-Myanmar border, especially the powerful Karen ethnic group, signed on to the peace agreement.

Recently Daw Suu reiterated that the NLD-led government will give priority to the peace process, a prerequisite for further economic and social progress and development. As such, Thailand can be assured that the new government needs stable and predictable bilateral relations.

Of late, both consultation and cooperation between the military and navy officials from the two countries have increased, in particular among senior ranks. High-level committee meetings between their senior military officials as well as Navy-to-Navy talks have strengthened security cooperation. Of late, intelligence exchanges have included illegal sea movement of potential human traffickers in the Gulf of Bengal.

Furthermore, Thai development officials from bordering provinces have held discussions with their counterparts to work on human resource development programmes to prepare for a burgeoning border trade. Better border management from both sides is crucial to promote trade and people-to-people contacts, both in the context of Thailand-Myanmar relations - as well as economic integration under the Asean Community. Both countries are important production value chains and are part of the East-West economic corridor.

Finally, sticky questions of border demarcation will soon surface. The two countries have postponed dealing with the issue due to lack of domestic preparedness and budgetary constraints. Problematic issues include overlapping land claims around Three Pagoda Pass in Kanchanaburi province and shifting banks along the Mae Sai and Ruak rivers in Chiang Rai. The most urgent task now is to conduct a detailed joint survey, including an auto-photo map of the porous border so experts can do further study.

With the new government taking shape, Thailand needs to clear up existing mutual misconceptions and build up new confidence to promote a strong and forward looking strategic partnership in the future.

Protestors against asylum seekers being deported, gather for a rally in Sydney, Australia, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. Australia was resisting mounting international pressure not to deport child asylum seekers, with a minister warning on Thursday that allowing them to stay could attract more refugees to come by boat. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

February 8, 2016

The immigrant surge throughout the world is not just south to north. Migrants are surging to Australia, too, and Australia’s highest court has ordered a temporary respite from a migrant threat like that in Europe and North America.

Australia’s high standard of living, freedom from religious persecution and a broad welfare net makes the land down under a target for millions of Asians. Many migrants are legitimate refugees seeking shelter for life and limb, but many others are economic migrants chasing jobs or professional careers.

In a test case involving a Bangladeshi woman, the Australian high court ruled that the strategy of holding migrants in New Guinea and on the equatorial island of Nauru until questions about status satisfies the law. Despite being a verified refugee whose status is sanctioned by the Nauruan government, the woman can be confined to the island’s immigration detention center.

The government in Canberra worries that a surge of migrants from South Asia will grow from the manageable tide of refugees and migrants seeking Australian asylum. With the archipelago of some 20,000 islands, a thousand of them permanently inhabited, on its northern flank, the Australians face the threat of such an invasion. Though Indonesia says it is committed to helping Australia suppress the human traffic, there’s a working network of assistance exploiting Asians on the journey. Australia has had to deal with occasional outbreaks, familiar elsewhere, among recent radical Islamic immigrants.

Instability makes Southeast Asia and South Asia a fertile source of migration. An explosion of ethnic violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya, a Muslim sect in southwestern Burma, has produced a refugee crisis. Many minority groups in Burma, as Myanmar called itself until recently, have long histories of revolt against the independent government of the former British colony. Many Rohingya, who trace their ancestors to the eighth century, are descended from migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Despite their commitment to pacifism, Buddhists have clashed with Rohingya, violence answering violence, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel prize leader of a democratic movement to wrest power from the Burmese military, declines to publicly take sides in the dispute.

The Pakistani woman, who had been taken to Australia for medical treatment, does not have the full protection of Australian law and the case could have immediate ramifications for 80 children being detained in refugee camps, including a five-year-old boy who was sexually assaulted on Nauru. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton promises to take a “compassionate” approach, but he says that “the last thing I want is for boats to start again and, as we’re seeing in Europe at the moment. There are thousands of people who are willing to pay people smugglers to get onto boats to come to countries like Australia. We’ve been able to stamp out that trade, and I don’t want it to start again. I don’t want our detention centers to fill up again.”

The Australian court’s ruling runs contradictory to rulings in American courts, which have consistently said that Constitutional guarantees of personal liberty afforded to American citizens extend to foreigners who make it to American soil. But the law, and not the scimitar, will sort it out.


RB News
February 6, 2016

A seven members delegation of the Rohingya American Society (RAS) led by Shaukhat Kyaw Soe Aung (aka) MSK Jilani, met with Turkish Consul General Mr. Umut Acar on Wednesday, February 04, 2016 at the Turkish Consulate General office in Chicago, Illinois. 

At the meeting, Rohingya issue was raised and discussed thoroughly and the Turkish Consul General assured that the Turkish government would continue to support the Rohingya minority cause and make effort to bring this issue to the international level and Burmese societies for the restoration of the Rohingyas’ basic fundamental human rights, including citizenship rights in Burma (Myanmar). 



At the end of the meeting with Consul General Mr. Umut Acar, the RAS delegation handed over “A MEMORANDUM TO THE GOVERNMENT AND PEOPLE OF TURKEY”.







February 6, 2016

The country teemed with optimism when Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in parliament this week. But can a great human-rights leader now rise to the challenges of political reform, ethnic unrest and homelessness?

Rohingya: a Muslim women, her face painted with thanaka paste, in Rakhine; pressure is growing for Suu Kyi to say something about Muslims’ persecution by Myanmar’s Buddhists. Photograph: Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty

As Yangon Circular Railway makes its way around Myanmar’s biggest city a boy is dancing in the aisle while another plays a toy electric guitar. Commuters smile benignly. A young vendor, her face painted with thanaka, a paste made from bark, pauses with her basket of freshly cut pineapple to watch him dance, and the teeming, chaotic city drifts past outside the open windows.

Along the 46km loop, which takes in 39 stations, shanties’ rusty corrugated roofs lean against the track, lush paddy fields and faded colonial houses pass by, skyscraper building sites look busy, and groups of cheerful boys play volleyball on makeshift courts behind the railside houses.

For less than €1 you can take this train for a three-hour journey that shows you the optimism that has pervaded Myanmar (which used to be known as Burma) since Aung San Suu Kyi took her seat in parliament on Monday, after a landslide election win in November for her party, the National League of Democracy.

Wearing flowers in her hair, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate sat poised in the cavernous parliament building in Naypyidaw, the purpose-built new capital. It was a landmark moment for the first democratically elected government since the military junta took power in 1962.

But the slow pace at which the trains of Yangon Circular Railway chug around the city also echoes the sluggishness of democratic reform in this southeast Asian nation. A constitutional bar has prevented Suu Kyi from becoming president – a role that 80 per cent of the electorate gave her in November’s polls. On top of this political challenge her government must try to bring peace to Myanmar’s war-torn ethnic states and stop attacks on the Rohingya Muslims, in Rakhine state, by the Buddhist majority.

As the view from the train shows, Myanmar also has a desperately poor economy that is in need of reform. That process started in 2011, when the military leader and current president, Thein Sein, started to open up the country.

Suu Kyi and her party won the polls in 1990, but she spent 15 of the next 22 years under house arrest after the junta annulled the election. She now has to find a way to suspend section 59 (f) of the constitution, which bars from the presidency anybody, like her, with a foreign spouse or children, without forcing the generals into a position where they feel cornered.

So far the generals seem content with the transition. In a televised address last week Thein Sein said: “Even though there were difficulties and challenges, we were able to bring a democratic transformation eventually. This is a triumph for all Myanmar’s people.”

Ink-stained fingers

Suu Kyi is revered as “the Lady” among the people of Myanmar. Voters used their little fingers, blackened with ink, to cast their ballots in the election, and many keep their digits ink-stained as a reminder of the achievements of that poll.

Expectations are high among Myanmar’s 51 million people that Suu Kyi will be able to resolve the country’s myriad problems.

But the challenges are great. Even within the National League of Democracy it can be hard for members to find common goals. The party encompasses a spectrum of views and is united only by its quest for democracy and its leadership by Suu Kyi.

“The people are very optimistic. Our motto is ‘Change’, and I believe that Aung San Suu Kyi can change the constitution and lead; she can solve the issues,” says Kyaw Min San, one of the party’s newly elected legislators.

The 38-year-old lawyer, who was a first-time candidate, is now a representative for the Pako region, 80km north of Yangon (which was formerly known as Rangoon). He has spent his career working for rural law and human rights.

“The constitution is a barrier, but we have to improve the constitution; we have to amend it to make it a real democracy.

“What people now hope for is a fully democratic government, and they also want better social security and for the economy to improve, as well as to have human rights in the country.”

How will the issue of the presidency be resolved? Kyaw Min San says that he doesn’t know. There is speculation that the next president, who is due to take over from Thein Sein by the end of next month, could be a woman, a member of an ethnic minority or even, to smooth the transition of power, a former general.

That last possibility is not as remote as it sounds, but half a century of military rule means the most commonly expressed wish is for Suu Kyi to take up the role. “The people want Aung San Suu Kyi to be our president. That is the first step,” Kyaw Min San says.

Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, who achieved independence for the country from British rule, after the second World War, was able to bring together various national groups, and there are high hopes that she will also manage this.

“Sanda Aung”, is a 24-year-old domestic worker from Kawhmu township, which is Aung San Suu Kyi’s constituency. (She has asked to use a pseudonym because, even though people are prepared to speak out more, there is still anxiety about doing so too openly: in the month before the election, Amnesty International estimates, at least 19 prisoners of conscience were jailed, bringing the total that it is aware of to 110; hundreds of others are awaiting trial.)

Asked who she thinks will be the next president, Aung is confident that it will be “someone whom Daw Aung San Suu Kyi trusts in”. Daw, which means Aunt, is an honorific akin to Madame; Sanda Aung’s use of it is typical of the respect that Suu Kyi is held in here, and of the belief that she will make the right decisions and lead the country out of hardship.

“Everything will be okay . . . I feel optimistic because we can speak out openly at the moment. The big economic factors are the jade industry and also confiscated farmland,” she says.

Illegal jade trade

Many people are concerned about the country’s natural resources; there is a belief that Myanmar needs more stability if it is to attract foreign investment. Many of the country’s minerals, including jade and gems, are to be found in regions where ethnic minorities and the government are fighting, so making peace in these regions is crucial to the country’s economic wellbeing.

The country’s jade trade, much of which involves trafficking stones to China, is reputed to be worth about half of the country’s gross domestic product. It is controlled by the military.

Su Su Pae, a 27-year-old IT worker, shares the concern about Myanmar’s natural resources. “Also, a lack of transparency has made an economic crisis in our country,” she says. “Overall I have an optimistic outlook about the future. It is sure to improve if we really reform our country. Certainly, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to resolve issues with the ethnic minorities, although there may be some difficulties to begin with . . . She is a very important person for the people of Myanmar. The main challenges she will face are employee-employer relations, educational reform and corruption.”

Min Aung Myo Lin, a 23-year-old student, believes that Suu Kyi faces many challenges. “There are a lot of problems which the government of 2010 was not able to solve. Maybe she will have difficulty dealing with problems such as homelessness, confiscated farmlands, democratic education, crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and environmental damage,” he says. “However, she will be able to handle those problems because she possesses a higher quality than the military government.” But he believes that resolving ethnic issues will be too hard a challenge.

Internationally, pressure is growing for Suu Kyi to say something about the fate of the Rohingya, in the western state of Rakhine, who have faced violent persecution at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhists, the country’s largest ethnic group.

Longer-term residents in Myanmar believe the demands of government will prove a major test for Suu Kyi. After her years as a popular figure of civil disobedience who has shown great individual courage in standing down the military government, there are worries that the day-to-day demands of ruling the country could prove difficult, especially when it comes to making hard choices about dealing with Muslim or Chinese minorities.

The junta’s legacy will prove tough to unravel – the toughest challenge yet for the lady so beloved of the commuters on Yangon Circular Railway.

Barred from the presidency: Aung San Suu Kyi and the constitution

A clause in Myanmar’s 2008 constitution, drafted by the military junta, seems to be aimed at Aung San Suu Kyi, the runaway victor of the 2015 election.

She is barred from the presidency because of her foreign husband and children: she had two sons with the late British historian Michael Aris.

Although the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is led by retired soldiers, has conceded defeat in the election, Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy needs the support of the military if it is to govern effectively: the military is guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in parliament.

Three key ministries – home affairs, defence and border affairs – are also chosen by the military’s commander-in-chief.

The way the process unfolds in coming weeks is also complex. Even the opening of parliament, in Naypyidaw, was a protracted affair. So far the lower house, the Pyithu Hluttaw, and the upper house, the Amyotha Hluttaw, have opened; the combined parliament, or Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, meets on Monday.

Each of the two chambers will nominate its presidential candidate, and the military officials who hold a quarter of seats will put forward their nominee. The combined chambers will then vote; the winning nominee will become president, and the other two will become vice-presidents.

Suu Kyi has said that she will be “above the president”, and in complete control of the government, but no one seems to know how she will do this.

What she said at the time suggests that she does not intend to allow the constitution to stand in the way of her becoming president.

“He will have to understand perfectly well that he will have no authority, that he will act in accordance with the decisions of the party,” she said.

“That is the only logical way to do it. Because in any democratic country it’s the leader of the winning party that becomes the leader of the government.

“If this constitution doesn’t allow it, then we will have to make arrangements so that we can proceed along usual democratic lines.”

The military still controls a quarter of the seats in Myanmar's parliament.

By Motokazu Matsui
February 6, 2016

YANGON -- Myanmar's ruling party plans to submit a new bill that could allow its leader Aung San Suu Kyi to become president, multiple party members told The Nikkei, in a move that will surely draw fire from the military and may even grind the country's power transition to a halt.

The bill aims to temporarily suspend a clause in the constitution that bans individuals with foreign family members from becoming president. Suu Kyi, who leads the National League for Democracy, has two sons with British citizenship.

Changing the constitution requires a more than three-quarters vote in parliament, among other tough conditions. Opposition by military-appointed lawmakers thwarted an amendment submitted last June. But the NLD now holds a majority of seats in both houses after a crushing victory in last year's election. It has the numbers to pass the new bill, which would result in a new law and technically not alter the constitution.

Some are concerned over whether the legislative bill, designed to circumvent formally pre-defined channels for constitutional amendment, is even constitutional. But the constitutional clause will be suspended if the new bill passes, according to Nyan Win, a lawyer and member of the NLD's Central Executive Committee. A national vote could be held afterwards as well.

A legal advisory panel consisting of experts and members of the lower house was launched Friday. It will be led by Shwe Mann, the former head of the military-tied Union Solidarity and Development Party and a Suu Kyi confidante. Many observers believe Shwe Mann, who is supportive of constitutional change, will work with the panel and help legitimize the proposed bill.

But a military backlash seems unavoidable. The current constitution allots a quarter of parliamentary seats to the military, effectively giving it veto power. Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has repeatedly stated that the military will safeguard the constitution. And a military-run newspaper also argued in a Monday editorial that the clause on presidential eligibility should never be changed.

Suu Kyi has worked closely with the military to ensure a smooth transition of power, such as meeting with former junta leader Than Shwe in December after the elections. The NLD may not submit the bill after all, since pushing the bill through parliament in spite of military opposition could trigger a coup.

If the NLD fails to suspend the clause banning Suu Kyi from the presidency, it will appoint another individual to the post. "I will be above the president," Suu Kyi has said, revealing plans to rule from outside the government. Some in the military are concerned this could place too much of the NLD's power outside traditional controls. "It would be better to allow Suu Kyi to become president and curb her power through the parliament and cabinet," a diplomatic source said.

Any deliberation on the new bill, which could undermine the constitution, is bound to take time. The ruling party could choose someone close to Suu Kyi to fill the spot before current President Thein Sein leaves office at the end of March, and prepare for long-term negotiations with the military.

The goal is to make Suu Kyi president "within the year," NLD senior official Tin Oo told foreign media.



By Matthew Pennington 
February 5, 2016

Washington -- Dark-skinned and bearded men jump a young woman after she prays at a Buddhist shrine. They push her to the ground and rape her. Then they cut off her ear and slit her throat.

A lurid video recently posted online by a firebrand monk in Myanmar purports to re-enact the woman's death at the hands of Muslim assailants. Her killing in 2012 set off widespread violence between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in the Southeast Asian nation.

Tens of thousands of people viewed the video until Facebook blocked it on Feb. 1, a sign of the continuing reach of Myanmar's Buddhist extremists even as the country moves toward civilian rule after five decades of military dominance.

A new report by U.S. researchers finds that a divisive religious group known as Ma Ba Tha, which counts the hardline monk Wirathu among its senior members, is likely to remain a force for some time to come in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Ma Ba Tha's anti-Muslim prejudices resonate in the broader Burmese society, according to the report.

The conflict and security research group C4ADS spent several months studying hate speech in Myanmar. It focused on Ma Ba Tha, or the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, scrutinizing the social media accounts of the group's leading monks and followers.

"We find a decentralized, but still highly organized, group that operates with unrivaled freedom," the report says. It cites the group's activist rallies, legislative campaigns, powerful media network and pressure directed at judges and police to influence legal cases.

The report concludes that the incoming government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, or NLD, is unlikely to confront Ma Ba Tha, despite the religious group's support for a rival pro-military party that was trounced in November elections. The new NLD-led parliament convened this week.

"While the (election) defeat is embarrassing to an organization whose key leaders had openly advocated against the NLD, it may prove to have little material impact over the long run," the report says.

Experts say the NLD's victory was driven by support for Suu Kyi and a desire for civilian rule. But the party did not field a single Muslim among its 1,151 election candidates — a sign of the political sensitivities surrounding religion.

Also, there is popular support for Ma Ba Tha's campaign to deny rights to stateless Rohingya Muslims, who have been targeted in the religious violence and live in apartheid-like conditions in western Myanmar, according to the report.

Ma Ba Tha denies spreading hate speech. "We are not telling anyone to hate Muslims or kill them or anything like that. We are just trying to protect our own race and religion and showing love to our country," central committee member Ashin Parmoukkha told The Associated Press in Yangon, Myanmar's main city.

Yet even the group's more moderate leaders have espoused an ultra-nationalist outlook in which Muslims, who account for about 5 to 10 percent of Myanmar's 52 million people, pose an existential threat to the Buddhist majority.

Ma Ba Tha's vice chairman, the renowned monk Sitagu Sayadaw, organized a peace conference last month with participants from more than 50 countries. He told a visiting U.S. delegation in 2014 that Buddhist countries "are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists."

The ability of Ma Ba Tha leaders to simplify Buddhist teachings has added to the group's popular appeal. It has a nationwide network of offices, oversees newspapers, broadcasts TV sermons and does charitable work.

Wirathu, the monk who posted the video, is Ma Ba Tha's most provocative voice. He served several years in jail for inciting deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2003. In January 2015, he called a U.N. special envoy on human rights a "whore" and a "bitch" after she criticized a bill restricting interfaith marriage and religious conversions in Myanmar. It was among four race and religion bills championed by Ma Ba Tha and signed into law last year despite opposition from the NLD party.

The video posted in late January on his Facebook page, which has 131,000 followers, was intended as a teaser for a longer video portraying the May 2012 killing of 27-year-old Ma Thida Htwe in western Rakhine State. A court sentenced to death two Muslim men for robbing, raping and killing the woman. A third man was charged; state media reported that he hanged himself in custody.

The woman's killing triggered the first in several bouts of Buddhist-Muslim violence that has left more than 200 dead and 140,000 homeless.

Wirathu, 47, defended the video in an interview with the Myanmar Times newspaper, saying he wanted to show the incoming NLD government that it "needs to prioritize protecting the race and religion of the country."

Facebook took down the video after complaints from activists, including Myanmar scholar Maung Zarni, who said its portrayal of Muslim men as blood-thirsty and its use of Buddhist symbolism were clearly intended to resonate with Burmese racists.

The NLD and government officials have also criticized the video, but Maung Zarni contended that authorities have "incubated" Ma Ba Tha and allow it to act with impunity.

Tina Mufford, East Asia analyst for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the group has grown rapidly in the past two years and she expected its "warped" anti-Muslim messaging would continue.

"The elections may be over, but Ma Ba Tha's inner workings are still in place," she said.

———
Associated Press writers Esther Htusan in Yangon, Myanmar, and Grant Peck in Bangkok,Thailand, contributed to this report.

Rohingya Exodus