Myanmar Military Expands Donations to Non-Buddhist Religions

By Htet Naing Zaw 27 August 2019

NAYPYITAW—Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing donated to non-Buddhist religious communities because of the need for unity in the country, a military spokesperson said.

Led by Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, members of the Myanmar military visited and made donations to Christian and Muslim religious groups in Naypyitaw’s Pyinmana Township on Sunday.

“Now is the time that our country needs to be united. Particularly, we need political cohesion, social cohesion and religious cohesion today. [The Myanmar military] has done what is necessary for that,” Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy, explaining the rationale for the Tatmadaw’s handing out of donations to non-Buddhist religious organizations.

The families of Tatmadaw army, navy and air force members have made communal rice donations, as per Buddhist ritual, to Buddhist monasteries, nunneries and homes for the aged annually since 1996, but this year they also donated to 11 Christian churches, 13 mosques and an Arabic school in the township, in addition to Buddhist organizations.

“The Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services said that all religions have preached the merits of donation,” said Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun.

Muslim and former political prisoner U Tun Kyi said he welcomes the donations if the military chief made them out of goodwill rather than because of international pressure and sanctions on him.

“I don’t want the [Tatmadaw]’s donations if they’re a way of using religion for political advantage. I want donations made out of benevolence and goodwill and no other reason,” U Tun Kyi told The Irrawaddy.

Although the followers of all religions have coexisted peacefully for many years in Myanmar and are granted religious freedom by the Constitution, the actual practice of religious freedom and expression has been difficult, said U Tun Kyi.

Nationalist monk U Parmaukha said he agrees that donations are good deeds whether made to Buddhists, Christians or Muslims. A country’s leader needs to get on well with everyone, he said.

“[The military chief] has to engage to get along with practitioners of all religions. You can practice the religion you like, but if you attack other religions, you will become a religious extremist. Not just the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services but, I understand, the State Counselor [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] also has to engage with Muslim and Christian religious leaders,” said U Parmaukha.

“It is important that all ethnic people and all citizens work together in unity for the peace and prosperity of the country, with peaceful means,” the military chief was quoted as saying to Christian and Muslim religious leaders.

International pressure has mounted to have Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations committed against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community, who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh allegedly because of the Myanmar military.

The Myanmar military’s counterinsurgency operation followed attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on border police outposts in northern Rakhine State in 2017 and caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, resulting in widespread allegations of human rights violations.

The ruling National League for Democracy government has denied the allegations, saying they lack evidence.

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

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