Min Aung Hlaing Asks Soldiers in Arakan Not to Be ‘Extreme’

By The Irrawaddy 13 July 2016

Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing requested soldiers stationed in Arakan State not to practice “extreme activities” while upholding their culture and religion.

He made the comments in a speech delivered on Wednesday to soldiers and their families at a military cantonment in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe. Min Aung Hlaing has been conducting a relief tour of several flood-hit areas in Arakan State.

In his speech, the armed forces chief cited previous official figures that Burma’s population is 87 percent Buddhist, six percent Christian and four percent Muslim, alongside smaller religious communities.

These figures, still in official use, have not been updated according to the 2014 census, whose breakdown on religious demographics has been repeatedly delayed due to concerns over social unrest, and is now scheduled for release later this month.

“People should not resort to extreme activities in upholding their respective religions and cultures, but must do so in a ‘just’ way,” said Min Aung Hlaing.

In his speech, later posted on his official Facebook page, Min Aung Hlaing said that it was necessary to “reestablish unity” among ethnic groups, which was “broken” after Burma lost its independence during the British colonial era.

He blamed “discriminatory” policies from colonial rulers for creating “disunity, division and misunderstanding” leading to ethnic armed conflict and “disagreements” over politics, religion and national identity. These factors lay behind current “internal instability,” he said, prompting the need to “rebuild unity among ethnic races based on facts.”

Anti-Muslim violence in Arakan State in 2012 and 2013 displaced around 140,000 people, the large majority belonging to the Rohingya Muslim minority, the majority of whom are denied Burmese citizenship. Many Rohingya remain confined to camps, with restrictions placed on their movement and access to healthcare and education. Buddhist and Muslim communities remain segregated across substantial areas of the state.

Earlier this month, Arakan State saw protests by the local Arakanese Buddhist majority, which has rejected the government’s attempt to adopt less polarizing terminology to refer to Buddhist and Muslim communities in the state.