07/13/2016, 17.14
MYANMAR
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Burmese Buddhist leaders against anti-Muslim Ma Ba Tha movement

For the first time, the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee openly disavows the extremist group. In a statement, Buddhist leaders say they never supported the ideas and statements by ultra-nationalists. For a Ma Ba Tha spokesman, the group is a voluntary organisation that does not require anyone’s approval.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar’s top monks have come out against Ma Ba Tha, distancing itself from the country’s Buddhist extremist movement and its ideology.

The Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, which represents the upper echelons of the clergy in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, issued a statement late Tuesday saying it had never endorsed the ultra-nationalist, monk-led Ma Ba Tha (Protection of Race and Religion).

Ma Ba Tha has led anti-Rohingya Muslim protests and promoted sectarian violence. Since its foundation three years ago out of the anti-Islamic 969 movement, it has developed into a nation-wide organisation with offices across the country.

According to human rights groups and international NGOs, the Rohingya are a persecuted minority. Under Myanmar’s former military-controlled government, they were treated like illegal immigrants and for this reason, suffered repression at the hand of the government.

The statement by the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee comes hours ahead of a two-day gathering of around 50 of Myanmar's top monks. In the press release, the committee said that Ma Ba Tha was not established according to its rules or approval.

"It was formed with volunteers like other organisations in the country,” said a Ma Ba Tha spokesman. “Registration is not needed to form this kind of organisation”.

The Constitution promulgated in 2008 by the then military-backed government under the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) recognises that " Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution. ".

After that, the USDP government approved four laws promoted by the Ma Ba Tha as part of a legislative package in defence of race and religion. The rules regulating polygamy and conversions were designed to go against the Muslim minority.

Despite its poor performance in last November's elections, the extremist movement has continued to promote Burmese ethnicity and Buddhist religion against Islam and Muslims, which are seen as a threat.

Ma Ba Tha-promoted protests have led to violence in the past, including the death of Muslims, something that continues to this day. In fact, just last month, two mosques were set on fire in central and norther Myanmar.

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