Burma’s Wirathu and Sri Lankan Nationalist Monks Sign Agreement

By Krishan Francis 1 October 2014

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Burmese Buddhist monk and a Sri Lankan ultranationalist both known for campaigning against Muslims formally signed on Tuesday an agreement to work together to protect Buddhism, which they say is challenged worldwide.

U Wirathu leads the fundamentalist 969 movement that has been accused of instigating deadly violence against minority Muslims in Burma. He was a special invitee Sunday at a rally of Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, which also has been accused of instigating violence and claims minority Muslims are trying to take over Sri Lanka by having more children, marrying Buddhist women and taking over businesses.

The groups said their agreement involves networking and building the capacity to stabilize Buddhism. They promised to release the contents of the agreement soon.

“I expect a lot of problems because I have decided to work with Bodu Bala Sena for the upliftment of Buddhism. But we are ready to face anything,” he told reporters.

“The problems will not be from within but from outside,” U Wirathu said without elaborating.

He however insisted that the partnership was not to harm any religious group.

Joining 969 could boost an already soaring support base for Bodu Bala Sena, which, in turn, could exacerbate mistrust and tensions between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese-Buddhists and its Muslims, who are 10 percent of the country’s 20 million people.

Politically, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s credibility among Muslims stands to erode further after his government allowed U Wirathu to visit Sri Lanka despite opposition from Muslim groups, including his own allies.

U Wirathu’s 969 started on the fringes of society but now boasts supporters nationwide in Burma.

Hundreds of people died in 2012 sectarian violence in Burma, with about 140,000, mostly Muslims, forced from their homes. Buddhist monks were accused of instigating and sometimes actively participating in the violence.

Bodu Bala Sena is also accused of instigating violence against Muslims in June killing two and wounding dozens. Many shops and homes were also destroyed by fire.