Top Leaders Warn Minister over ‘Extreme Faith’ Comments

By Moe Moe 10 December 2018

NAYPYITAW—Top leaders have warned Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture Thura U Aung Ko to choose his words carefully when referring to Rohingya refugees taking shelter in Bangladesh.

While addressing the funeral of Myaing Gyi Ngu Sayadaw, a respected ethnic Karen Buddhist monk, in Karen State’s Hpa-an on Nov. 27, the minister told monks in attendance that Buddhism in Myanmar was in danger from the followers of an unspecified “extreme” faith.

Believing the minister was referring to Islam, numerous Muslim organizations in the country raised objections to his statement.

At an education seminar in Naypyitaw on Dec. 4, the minister attempted to clarify his remarks, saying he was referring specifically to the Rohingya community in Bangladesh.

“We have issued a statement about what he said. And the [senior] leaders have spoken to him about it,” President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said at a fortnightly press conference on Friday.

Thura U Aung Ko was asked to bear official policy in mind while speaking to the media, said U Zaw Htay, adding that the minister’s comment reflected his personal views, and not those of the government.

Political analyst and former political prisoner U Tun Kyi called for appropriate action to be taken against U Aung Ko, saying a warning was not sufficient.

The government should release a statement clarifying that the minister’s comments do not reflect its policies, U Tun Kyi added.

On Nov. 30, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture released a public announcement claiming that the minister’s use of the term “extreme” did not target any particular faith.

“It simply refers to ‘religious extremists’ from every faith in the country,” it said.