Myanmar Military Chief Makes More Donations to Non-Buddhist Groups

By Htet Naing Zaw 12 September 2019

NAYPYITAW—The Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) on Wednesday made a second series of donations to non-Buddhist religious communities in a move the military stated was aimed at building unity.

Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing donated cash and provisions to Christian and Muslim religious groups in Mandalay, as well as to Buddhist monks at the Bhamo and Ma Soe Yeik monasteries.

He made donations to a madrasa (a school for Islamic instruction) in Chanayethazan Township and a Catholic church in Aungmyethazan Township, said military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun.

The donations, which included 9.5 million kyats (about US$6,220) in cash, and 140 bags of rice, oil, peas and salt, were aimed at building political, social and religious cohesion in the country, the military spokesman said.

It was the Myanmar army’s second round of donations to non-Buddhist religious communities after it made donations in August to Christian and Muslim groups in Pyinmana Township in the administrative capital of Naypyitaw for the same purpose.

Buddhist, Islamic and Christian leaders welcomed the military chief’s decision to expand donations to non-Buddhist religious groups.

“Mainly the purpose [of donations] is to make sure all [the people], regardless of the place they live [in Myanmar], love the country, and share the same aim of working for the betterment of the country with unity and cohesion,” the military spokesperson said.

While the donations and their aims are welcome, the military should show magnanimity and drop its lawsuits against three Mandalay monks, said Mandalay-based lawyer U Thein Than Oo.

“Not just the military; I also disagree with government leaders [charging critics] under Section 505(b) [of the Penal Code for sedition] and Article 66(d) [of the Telecommunications Law]. People have the right to speak freely. [The military and government] should not be too sensitive. I support [the military’s] donations, but I would also like to request that it drop lawsuits against monks,” he said.

Local military officers have filed lawsuits against three monks in Mandalay for criticizing the Tatmadaw online.

One of the monks, U Thawbita, is facing a lawsuit for violating Article 66(d) and Section 505(b).

The military has also opened a case against U Sein Ti Ta under Article 66(d) after the court rejected a lawsuit under Section 505(b) in July.

The lawsuit against the third monk, U Arriyawuntha, was based on his comments over 30 million kyats in donations made by a senior military officer to the ultranationalist group Buddha-Dhamma Parahita Foundation, formerly known as Ma Ba Tha. The comments were published online by Yangon Khit Thit in June.

The donations come amid mounting international pressure to have Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing tried at the International Criminal Court for human rights violations committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape the Tatmadaw’s clearance operations against Rohingya insurgents in northern Rakhine State in 2017.

The US has imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders, including Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, barring them and their families from entering the country. The Myanmar military has described the sanctions as an act of bullying.