RANGOON — Nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu said he will hold another large conference for thousands of monks from across Burma next week. He said the monks would gather in Mandalay and discuss his controversial proposal to restrict marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men.
In June last year, U Wirathu organized a large gathering of monks in Rangoon, who came out in support of his draft Law for the Protection of Race, Religion and Language.
This proposed law would require any Buddhist woman seeking to marry a Muslim man to first gain permission from her parents and local government officials. Any Muslim man who marries a Buddhist woman is required to convert to Buddhism. The monks said at the time that they would pressure lawmakers into adopting the proposal.
On Thursday, U Wirathu told The Irrawaddy that he expected 5,000 monks to attend his Mandalay conference on Jan. 15 and hold discussions on the perceived threats to Buddhism in Burma.
“Mainly our intention is to protect our race and religion. We will discuss issues of our race and religion,” he said. “This meeting is very important for Buddhist people and the result from the meeting will provide complete security for the country.”
U Wirathu said he would again lobby for the clergymen’s support for his controversial proposal. “We found on the ground in almost every township that there are women who were forced to convert to another religion. We need to have an interfaith marriage law to protect them,” he claimed.
U Wirathu hails from a monastery near Mandalay and is considered the leader of a large group of monks belonging to the 969 movement. The group has organized a nationwide campaign calling on Buddhists to shun shops owned by Burma’s Muslim minority.
The movement is accused of spreading hate speech and has been linked to growing inter-communal tensions in Burma. In 2012 and 2013, outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence have left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 150,000 people, most of them Muslim.
Last year, U Wirathu’s proposal sparked widespread criticism from different corners of Burmese society, with some raising questions about the monks’ interference in politics and lawmaking.
The 969 movement has since been campaigning in support of the proposal among Burma’s largely rural Buddhist majority, who deeply revere monks. U Wirathu now claims that 4 million people signed a petition in support of the proposed law.
In November, the controversial monk also made headlines by suggesting that the hugely popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is unfit for the presidency.
His remarks come at a time when Suu Kyi has been stepping up pressure on the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and the military to amend the Constitution and remove a clause that prevents her from becoming president.
On Thursday, U Wirathu repeated his claims about the National League for Democracy leader and said that increasing security along Burma’s border with its Muslim-majority neighbor Bangladesh was of more importance then discussions about Suu Kyi becoming president
“She should not be our national leader because we cannot rely on her to protect our national interests,” he said, adding, “I am with the group who want to build a fence along the border.”