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Ma Ba Tha hits back at minister's calls for termination

Hardline monk U Wirathu (left) called on government leaders to censure Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein at a press conference in Ywarma Pariyahti monastery in Yangon's Insein township yesterday. Photo: Nyan Zay Htet / The Myanmar Times

By Aung Kyaw Min
Myanmar Times
July 8, 2016

A prominent Buddhist nationalist group is fighting back against the Yangon chief minister's attempts to dissolve the organisation.

Yesterday morning, Yangon Region Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein met with Buddhist clerics from the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (known as Ma Ha Na) to discuss the possibility of dissolving the hardline Committee to Protect Nationality and Religion, known by its Myanmar language acronym Ma Ba Tha.

"Yes, he came and lobbied Ma Ha Na for a dissolution, which is possible under the Sangha Law's regulatory provisions. The issue will be reviewed by Ma Ha Na's 47 committee members at an upcoming meeting," the director of religious department U Tun Nyut told The Myanmar Times.

The meeting with Ma Ha Na escalates remarks made by the Yangon Region chief minister while on a trip to Singapore at the beginning of the week, when he called for the dissolution of Ma Ba Tha on grounds that the group is unnecessary and redundant.

“In fact, since Ma Ha Na already exists in Myanmar, the country does not need Ma Ba Tha,” he said to Myanmar citizens in Singapore on July 3. He reiterated the sentiment on July 6 to a small crowd of nationalist protestors that had gathered to meet him at the airport.

Ma Ba Tha responded to the verbal attack by convening an emergency meeting with central committee members yesterday. The five hour, closed-door discussions were followed by a press conference in which the group demanded that President U Htin Kyaw and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Su Kyi take responsibility for U Phyo Min Thein's comments by July 14.

U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based monk notorious for stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, also threatened nationwide protests if the NLD minister was not reprimanded.

"Ma Ba Tha is organised under the authority of Ma Ha Na, and it was approved and accepted by the All Order Sangha Conference in 2013 in Kabaraye, so it is a legal organisation. Therefore we will not have our organisation disbanded, but will continue working to implement our goals," U Wirathu said.

Ma Ba Tha, which has local chapters across the country, was recently involved in staging demonstrations in Yangon and Ayeyarwady regions, as well as Rakhine State, to protest the US Embassy's use of the term Rohingya, as well as the Union government's alternative terminology, "Muslim community of Rakhine State." Nationalist supporters are pushing for the re-adoption of terminology 'Bengali' which was in official use under the previous government.

Reverting to sexist language often favored by members of Ma Ba Tha, the group's secretary U Vimala Buddhi said yesterday, "He [U Phyo Min Thein] was not acting like a man, his statements are just like those of a woman. But this issue will be peacefully resolved – we will not attack them, but proceed with dialogue."

"We know that this attack against Ma Ba Tha was someone's making, but we have no evidence of it. We only were informed about it. We will solve the misunderstanding," he added.

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