Burma to Host World Buddhist Peace Summit Amid Interfaith Woes at Home

By Lawi Weng 21 January 2016

RANGOON — Conflict and tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma could be up for discussion at the World Buddhist Peace Conference in Sagaing Township, where the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy is hosting the three-day event beginning this Friday.

Ashin Kumara, who is organizing the conference, said domestic strains between the two faiths in recent years might be addressed at a gathering expected to draw hundreds of religious and spiritual leaders.

“Mainly we will discuss how to maintain peace, how to build peace, and how to solve problems or how to handle a problem when there is one,” he told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We will even do case studies from other countries where there have been religious problems, and then learn from them how they brokered peace in their communities.”

Relations between Burma’s majority Buddhists and minority Muslims have deteriorated in recent years, with 2012 violence between members of the two faiths in Arakan State killing more than 100 people and displacing an estimated 140,000 additionally. Most of those affected by the communal conflict in western Burma were members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

While nothing on that scale has occurred in the years since, sporadic violence at disparate locations across the country has served to highlight extant underlying tensions between the two religions.

“At the conference we may discuss religious conflict in our country, but it’s not for certain because there will be many people who will talk at the conference. This conference will focus on discussions of the whole issue of problems globally,” he said.

Asked whether he had a prescription for Burma’s interreligious woes, Ashin Kumara responded: “Whenever we have a problem, we use anger to solve it, and then we are not able to solve it. If the leadership from both sides could sit and negotiate, there would be no more problem.”

He added that other religious leaders in Burma, including Muslims, have been invited to attend the conference.

About 700 religious scholars from different faiths and other observers are expected to attend the gathering, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Thursday, with 200 experts from 52 countries invited, in addition to 500 local scholars.

U Wirathu, an influential firebrand monk accused of stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that he had not received an invite to the conference.

The Sitagu International Buddhist Academy was established in 1994 to teach and train missionary monks.