07/02/2019, 14.16
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Civilian government tells military not to give money to extremist monks

Yangon military region commander donated thousands of dollars to a foundation banned by religious authorities. The Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation supports Wirathu, a monk known as the Buddhist bin Laden. The Myanmar military and Buddhist ultra-nationalists are united against the democratic process.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture denounced a recent cash donation by a member of the Armed Forces to the Buddha Dhamma Prahita Foundation, an illegal Buddhist nationalist group formerly known as Ma Ba Tha, calling it an act in direct opposition to decisions made by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka committee, the governing body of Myanmar’s Buddhism.

The statement, dated 27 June, says that the 30-million-kyat donation (about US, 600) to the group – declared unlawful by the Sangha committee – has been widely seen “as an action against the decision of the committee.”

Yangon Region military commander Major-General Thet Pone donated 30 million kyats to the group whilst attending their annual meeting, on 17 June at their Insein Township headquarters.

Military spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun defended the donation last week, saying that the group is necessary and should be supported in the name of Buddhism.

Formerly known as Ma Ba Tha,[1] the foundation adopted a new name in May 2017 after the state Sangha committee called on the group to cease all activities or face the full weight of religious and secular law.

Its hateful attacks against religions other than Buddhism have been seen as a cause of ethnic conflict and an obstacle to efforts to maintain the rule of law.

In July 2018 clerical authorities deemed the renamed foundation illegal as well and banned all activities done under its name.

After the annual meeting, the foundation released a statement in which it denounced the government for its prosecution of U Wirathu, a controversial monk also known as the Buddhist bin Laden. He has been in hiding since an arrest warrant for sedition was issued against him in late May.

The statement by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture notes the foundation’s call for “the rejection of the current administration by any means necessary sounds like a threat to destroy a democratic government,” urging the public to prevent the group from carrying out such actions.

The ministry explained that U Wirathu tried to incite disaffection with the government and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, making the “outrageous claim” that military-appointed parliamentarians should be “worshipped as gods”.

Wirathu and his followers accuse the democratic government of favouring Muslims and not protecting Buddhist traditions and culture, a task which in their opinion only the military is doing. For this reason, they oppose attempts by Suu Kyi to change the country’s pro-military constitution.

For their part, the country’s Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) provide political and financial support to some of the most intransigent monastic groups, which they often use to influence its politics.

Myanmar Buddhism mainly follows the Theravada tradition and is practiced by about 89 per cent of the population who are the most religious Buddhist people in the people as measured by the number of monks (500,000) and nuns (75,000) as well as money spent on religion. Buddhist clergy are highly regarded in Myanmar society.

[1] Burmese-language acronym for the Association to Protect Race and Religion.

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