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Burma: Fears grow as ultranationalist monk visits Rakhine State

Firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu sits in a supporter's home during a Reuters interview in Yangon, October 4, 2015. Source: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

May 5, 2017

FIREBRAND Buddhist-nationalist monk Ashin Wirathu has sparked concerns of religious clashes as he visits Burma’s troubled Rakhine State.

The ultranationalist anti-Islam campaigner, who has compared himself to Donald Trump and is labelled by some as the “Burmese Bin Laden”, arrived in the state where a million Muslims live on Wednesday.

“We are concerned about his trip because he always spreads hate of Muslims,” a Muslim leader in northern Rakhine told Reuters.

During clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslim residents in 2012 which displaced 140,000 people, Wirathu went to Rakhine and delivered incendiary sermons, blaming violence on Muslims and calling for their deportation.

He is a senior figure in Ma Ba Tha movement of nationalist monks, which calls on its followers to boycott Muslim businesses in the name of “protecting race” and Theravada Buddhism in Burma.

Maungdaw police said they would provide security for the monk and his entourage during his visit, which the group claims is to “make donations” to Buddhist Arakanese villages. Wirathu’s party did not specify how long they intended to stay in the Rakhine.

The trip has stoked fears of emboldening hardline nationalists against the Rohingya, who they consider illegal immigrants and refer to as “Bengalis,” advocating that they be “returned” to Bangladesh despite living in Burma for centuries.

In March, the Arakan National Party led a rally against suggestions the Rohingya might be granted Burmese citizenship.

Under the country’s 1982 citizenship law, the minority group are not currently recognised as one of the national races.

Last Friday, Wirathu joined a group of around 100 monks and Buddhist nationalists who forcibly shut down four Islamic schools in Thaketa Township near Yangon.

The monk is also the head of the anti-Islam 969 movement. Wirathu told TIME magazine in 2013 that “you can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” referring to Muslim Burmese.

The UN has claimed that more than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed in the army’s operations in Rakhine, and at least 70,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late 2016.

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