Monks Vow to March Against Rangoon Projects After Govt Breaks Promise

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 6 July 2015

RANGOON — A Buddhist organization opposing five developments near the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon have vowed to resume their campaign after the government failed to meet their demand of an official hiatus.

Monday’s announcement by the Society to Protect the Shwedagon, a movement borne of a nationalist Buddhist group known as the Ma Ba Tha, threatened to “ex-communicate” the government if it did not put a stop to projects near the sacred site.

The Ma Ba Tha, an acronym for the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, launched a public campaign against the projects—a group of projects including the controversial Dagon City—in early June, claiming that major developments could cause structural damage to the pagoda.

Led in part by well-known monk U Pamoukka, the Society to Protect the Shwedagon was established to carry out signature campaigns, raise awareness and organize public demonstrations in defense of the monument.

Last month, the group met with Rangoon regional Commander Maj-Gen Tun Tun Naung and Rangoon Border Affairs Minister Col. Tin Win, during which the officials committed to halting the contentious developments and issuing an official statement to that effect within 15 days. The Society in turn agreed to cease holding public events related to the issue.

U Pamaukka said at a public address on Monday that the deadline had passed over the weekend, and that the government’s explanation for reneging on its promise was viewed buy the group as unsatisfactory.

The monk said he was informed by Ragoon’s Religious Affairs Officer Sein Maw that a letter officiating the projects’ postponement was delayed by President Thein Sein’s visit to Japan.

When reached by The Irrawaddy on Monday, Sein Maw confirmed relaying the message to U Pamoukka but wished to offer no other comment on the issue.

“We trusted and respected what they said, given their positions and power,” U Pamoukka told an audience of about 100 supporters. “Now they lie… the government has made a bad impression on the people by what they did. They should not make promises so easily [if they cannot keep them].”

Monday’s meeting concluded with a resolution to resume a nationwide petition against the developments, starting on Tuesday, and to reconvene on July 19 to coordinate nationwide demonstrations should the petition fail to produce timely results.

“We want to see all the fences, workers and machinery from the Dagon City project leave at that time, otherwise we will protest,” said Aung Myaing, a leading member of the society, at Monday’s address.

U Pamoukka said the group has considered several potential methods of recourse if the government does not uphold its promise to halt the project.

“We could mobilize public campaigns, or we could file a lawsuit against the army. If they fail to meet our request, we monks could ex-communicate the government,” he said.