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Buddhist Authorities Ban Myanmar’s Ultranationalist Monk Organization Ma Ba Tha Group

Ma Ba Tha monks last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence

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Supporters and monks belonging to the hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha rally outside the US embassy in Yangon, April 28, 2016. RFA
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US, May 26, 2017: A government-appointed body that regulates Myanmar’s Buddhist clergy has banned an ultranationalist monk organization known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric, according to media reports, ordering the group to disband or face punishment under both Buddhist and secular law.

The Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Ma Ha Na), a group of high-ranking monks that serves as Myanmar’s Buddhist authority, informed government ministries Tuesday that it had ordered the hardline group Ma Ba Tha to end its activities, according to a document obtained by Agence France-Presse.

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“People, either as individuals or as a group, cannot take any actions under the name of Ma Ba Tha,” the Sangha said in its statement, which also directed Ma Ba Tha to take down its posters and signboards around the country by July 15.

According to a report by Frontier Myanmar, the Sangha’s statement also warned that any breach of its edict would lead to punishment under Buddhist law and be referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs for “immediate” prosecution.

Ma Ba Tha representatives agreed to “obey [those decisions] exactly and inform other monks” in the group, Frontier said, citing the statement.

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Thawparka, a leading member of the Ma Ba Tha Steering Committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his organization is still determining how to respond to the order.

“We have to review the Ma Ha Na decision and discuss our future plans,” he said.

“We will let the country know what we decide.”

Thawparka added that the Ma Ba Tha’s fourth anniversary conference scheduled for May 27-28 had been canceled.

AFP cited a statement from the group which said that a meeting to discuss the Sangha’s decision would be held in its stead.

Myanmar has seen frequent outbreaks of religious violence in recent years amid tensions stoked by hardline groups such as Ma Ba Tha.

In one of the latest incidents, a violent confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims broke out on May 9 in a Yangon neighborhood where Ma Ba Tha monks had claimed that ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding illegally.

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After police determined that no one in the apartments was there illegally, a scuffle between the monks and Muslim residents broke out as the monks left the building. Two people were injured, and police fired warning shots to break up the crowd.

Ma Ba Tha monks last week denied allegations that they had provoked the violence.

The Sangha’s decision to shut down Ma Ba Tha came several weeks after it banned Wirathu—a prominent monk in the ultranationalist organization—from delivering sermons for one year because his use of hate speech against religions other than Buddhism was seen as causing communal strife and hindering efforts to uphold the rule of law.

The firebrand monk has since made several appearances in front of crowds with his mouth taped shut to protest his silencing by authorities, and recently made a controversial visit to Rakhine state in western Myanmar, which is home to the Muslim Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority views the Rohingya, a stateless group of 1.1 million, as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and government policy has denied them citizenship and access to other basic rights for decades.

Army refutes report

Reports of the Sangha’s ban came as Myanmar’s army on Tuesday cleared itself of allegations that soldiers may have carried out ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine, despite a damning report released by United Nations investigators in February.

The army, or Tatmadaw, dismissed claims by the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) that troops “very likely” committed mass killings and widespread rapes during a crackdown in Rakhine late last year based on its own investigation, the official Global New Light of Myanmar reported, citing the Tatmadaw’s “True News information team.”

The Tatmadaw said it carried out an investigation from Feb. 10 to March 4, interviewing 2,875 villagers from 29 villages in Rakhine regarding the accusations that “security forces performing area clearance operations committed terrorist attacks.”

“Out of 18 accusations included in OHCHR’s report, 12 were found to be incorrect, with remaining six accusations found to be false and fabricated accusations based on lies and invented statements,” the report said.

The investigation determined that one motor bike was “driven without the knowledge of its owner” by a soldier who was later found guilty, sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay the owner 530,000 kyats (U.S. $387) in compensation.

A village chief and village residents who failed to extinguish a fire at a hostel for school teachers “were whipped several times,” while two others were sent to jail, the report added.

The Tatmadaw’s findings differ significantly from those of the OHCHR, which said security forces may have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing amid the crackdown in north Rakhine aimed at capturing or killing insurgents who had attacked police border posts.

The OHCHR had based its information on interviews with hundreds of the more than 70,000 Rohingyas who fled to Bangladesh during the operation.

Myanmar’s civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has also denied allegations of rights abuses against the Rohingya and refused to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission into Rakhine to investigate. (RFA)

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UN: Rohingya Children Face Perpetual Life in Limbo

UNICEF says the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will not return to their homes in Myanmar without guarantees of safety

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Rohingya Children
Tuberculosis causes lots of death every year. VOA

A generation of Rohingya children in Myanmar and Bangladesh will be condemned to a perpetual life in limbo unless coordinated international action is taken to end the violence and discrimination against the Rohingya people, according to the UNICEF report Lives in Limbo.

More than half a million Rohingya refugee children are estimated to have fled to Bangladesh. The report by the U.N. children’s fund says that these children face multiple dangers, including the imminent threat of floods, landslides, and waterborne disease outbreaks during the upcoming monsoon and cyclone seasons, as well as the exploitation and early marriages that arise from living in congested, slumlike conditions.

However, the situation for the estimated 185,000 children who remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is considered even grimmer, according to Simon Ingram, author of the report.

ALSO READ: Crisis of Rohingya: A future lost in darkness of time

Rohingya Children
A Rohingya Muslim child kisses his mother as they rest after having crossed over from Myanmar to the Bangladesh side of the border near Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf area, Sept. 2, 2017. Tens of thousands of others crossed into Bangladesh in a 24-hour span as they fled violence in western Myanmar, the UNHCR said. VOA

He says families there reportedly are living isolated, fearful lives with minimal access to basic services.

“I think, if we are looking for an indicator of the situation on the ground, there is the fact that people are still continuing to come at the rate of something like 1,000 or more a week, crossing into Bangladesh,” Ingram said. “So, I think that that number itself speaks to the situation on the ground — the anxiety, the fear, the continued threat of violence and the hope of those people and those communities.”

UNICEF is urging the Myanmar government to end the violence, to lift restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement in Rakhine state, to provide for their basic needs, and to grant unlimited access to humanitarian agencies.

UNICEF says the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will not return to their homes in Myanmar without guarantees of safety. In the meantime, it says, education offers one of the best opportunities for Rohingya children to achieve a better future. (VOA)