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Nationalist monk tells NLD leader to avoid Rakhine

A man walks in front of a National League for Democracy billboard showing images of party candidates in Yangon on October 13. Photo: EPA

By Fiona Macgregor
Myanmar Times
October 14, 2015

An influential nationalist monk who is openly backing theArakan National Party (ANP) in Rakhine has called on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to cancel her visit to the state this weekend, saying it was likely to provoke protests and incite religious tensions.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times yesterday at his Pale Yadana monastery near Ngapali beach, U Eaindra Sar Ya, a member of the radical monk movement known as Ma Ba Tha, said the National League for Democracy leader “should not visit, because it will cause trouble”.

“If she didn’t come people would just carry on happily as normal,” he said. The senior monk said he had heard people talking about a protest against her visit and he thought one was likely to occur, although he added he did not expect monks to join in.

Asked if he feared any such protests could result in violence, he said he didn’t know. Political parties in the area yesterday played down concerns. However, the visit by the NLD leader has been described as “risky” by Myanmar political analysts.

U Eaindra Sar Ya said, “The only party that is good for Rakhine is the Arakan National Party.”

“No one in Rakhine likes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” he added.

Many in Myanmar see the NLD leader as supporting the Muslim community, although she has been harshly criticised abroad for not speaking out against human rights breaches against the stateless Rohingya minority. For that reason there are also many among the Rohingya community who view the 70-year-old Nobel peace laureate with suspicion as a Bamar nationalist.

She is due to visit the southern Rakhine towns of Toungup, Thandwe and Gwa from October 16 to 18.

“She never cared about Rakhine before so why is she coming now?” the monk asked. “Because she supports Muslims she makes problems by coming.”

He said, “All the monks in the area are Ma Ba Tha and the people follow what the monks advise.”

Rakhine has been blighted by ethno-religious conflict since violence broke out between Rakhine Buddhists and the Muslim minority who call themselves Rohingya in the state’s capital Sittwe in 2012, leaving over 200 people dead and over 140,000 homeless.

While the worst of the violence and tensions have occurred in the northern half of the state, southern Rakhine has also seen religious conflict. Unrest erupted in Thandwe township in September 2013 when mobs of ethnic Rakhine villagers attacked Muslim Kaman villages. Five Kaman were reported killed, while four Rakhine were injured in an attack by Muslims.

U Eaindra Sar Ya’s public support of the ANP comes amid controversy over claims that Ma Ba Tha has been overstepping religious conventions and backing the ruling USDP party in an attempt to sway voter opinion ahead of the November 8 elections.

Asked why he was supporting an ethnic party instead of the Union Solidarity and Development Party as other Ma Ba Tha monks have done – either indirectly or overtly – and whether he had discussed that with other Ma Ba Tha leaders, he said that politics was not something that the association’s monks would discuss between themselves.

The monk said neither the USDP nor the NLD would look after the needs of the Rakhine people and address concerns over religious fears. He said that if people in the community asked him who to vote for, he told them they should vote for the ANP.

“I don’t support the government. I just support the Rakhine people,” U Eaindra Sar Ya said.

However, Ko Mg Mg Phyu, vice chair of the ANP in Thandwe, played down links between the party and the religious group and said he did not believe the visit by the NLD leader would cause problems.

U Thein Mg Mg Thein, a spokesperson for the Thandwe USDP, echoed this view, saying, “There will be no problems and she will be able to walk among people safely.”

An NLD street campaign event in Thandwe yesterday drew several hundred people, including members of the Muslim community, and passed without incident.

Ko Mg Mg Phyu said, “I have met Ashin Eaindra but we did not talk about politics. If he is supporting the party I guess that it is because it is his personal opinion.”

He acknowledged that having the support of the monks’ organisation, which holds powerful sway among many Buddhists, would benefit the party, but he said he expected the ANP to win in Rakhine regardless. He added that he did not back the monk’s call for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to keep away from Rakhine. “I would strongly encourage people to go and hear whichever politicians speak and decide for themselves,” he said, adding however that he would be “too busy” to attend the NLD rally this weekend.

In Yangon, U Win Htein, a member of the NLD central executive committee, said the law gave Daw Aung San Suu Kyi the right to go anywhere and campaign as party leader. He said he did not want to respond directly to the monk’s comments. U Win Htein said the party had prepared well for the Rakhine trip and was not concerned.

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