Groups Say INGO Threatens to Inflame Religious Tensions in Meiktila

By Htun Htun 4 March 2019

YANGON—Residents of Mandalay Region’s Meiktila have signed a petition protesting against international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), saying their actions threaten to reignite sectarian conflict in the town.

A meeting was held on Feb. 27 at the Wai Yan Bontha Monastery, which is widely known to be loyal to Ma Ba Tha—the Burmese-language acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion. Nationalist groups, disciples and members of the Young Myanmar Buddhist Association attended the meeting and signed the petition, which will be presented to authorities, said U Win Zaw, who was present. `

“It’s not because of religion. We don’t want organizations in our town that sow discord between two societies on the pretext of providing social assistance,” U Win Zaw said.

The petition organizers have singled out MA-UK (Myanmar) for particular criticism, accusing the INGO of failing to cooperate with local authorities. The organization is planning to set up an office in the town.

MA-UK (Myanmar) did not reply to The Irrawaddy’s request for comment about locals’ accusations.

The petition reads, “I sign here of my own volition [affirming] that I totally oppose foreign-backed (so-called social assistance) INGOs including MA-UK Myanmar opening offices in Meiktila Township, and engaging in various forms of activity.”

More than 40 people were killed and many injured during violent clashes between the township’s Buddhist and Muslim communities in March 2013. Mosques and houses were reduced to ashes in the riots.

The violence started on March 20 following a brawl between a Muslim gold shop owner and a Buddhist customer. Anti-Muslim riots spread to some 15 towns in other regions and states.

MA-UK is working to repair drains in Chan Aye Tha Ward in the west of Meiktila, where Muslim residents whose houses were destroyed were resettled after the riots, but some locals have complained that the INGO failed to cooperate with local authorities, said Lower House lawmaker Dr. Maung Thin of Meiktila Township.

“The town was hit hard in 2013. We are concerned that it will happen again. I want all sides to work for peace,” he said.

“The peaceful relations the two societies enjoyed in the past have been restored. There is no problem and we should be careful about incendiary speeches,” said Meiktila resident U Aung Thein.

The township administrator filed a lawsuit against the supervisor of MA-UK (Myanmar) in 2016 in response to the organization’s activities in Meiktila, but the court rejected his complaint, according to local residents.

MA-UK (Myanmar) is based in London and began working in Myanmar in 2012 to provide food and relief items for people in conflict areas. Headquartered in Yangon’s Dagon Township, it has branch offices in Sittwe, Mrauk-U and Maungdaw in Rakhine State, and started operations in Meiktila in December 2016.