Wirathu Slams Ma Ba Tha Blacklisting in US Spending Bill

By Lawi Weng 21 December 2015

RANGOON — The firebrand monk U Wirathu has panned restrictions on a recently passed US spending bill that rule out any American funding for the Buddhist nationalist group of which he is a leading member, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.

The group, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, is explicitly referenced in the budget bill, which states that US funding to Burma “may not be made available to any organization or individual the Secretary of State determines and reports to the appropriate congressional committees advocates violence against ethnic or religious groups and individuals in Burma, including such organizations as Ma Ba Tha.”

The 2,009-page, $1.15 trillion spending bill was signed into law by US President Barack Obama on Friday. For years the US budget has contained specific provisions on Burma intended to support a pro-democracy agenda.

Saying the US Congress “got the wrong information” about Ma Ba Tha, Wirathu told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his group was not an advocate for violence.

“Their government is useless for having accepted the wrong information. It is very shameful,” he said.

“They wanted to show the world that they do not support our Ma Ba Tha. But our Ma Ba Tha does not use guns, we use non-violent means.”

The US prohibition, he added, was no problem for his group, which was not looking for an American handout.

“We accept donations from our own people, not from America or even any organizations from within our country. Our Ma Ba Tha is run with money from our own donors,” he said.

“The American government has no brain if they think our Ma Ba Tha would be able to use their money for our movement.”

Ma Ba Tha earlier this year did accept a sizeable donation from Thai Buddhists, who provided some 40 million kyats (US$30,770) in equipment to set up a radio station for the nationalist cause.

That cause has been viewed negatively by US and other international human rights groups, which have accused Ma Ba Tha of helping to incite violence against Burma’s Muslim minority in recent years. The group was a leading advocate for four “race and religion protection laws” passed earlier this year that critics say target Muslims and impinge on the rights of religious minorities and women.

Regarding the US spending bill’s accusations, Wirathu invited US policymakers to take another look at the organization.

“We want them to come and check us openly. We welcome them to do this any time. We are a transparent group. We could explain to them about our movement,” he said.

Wirathu on Monday also offered his take on US geopolitical maneuvers elsewhere in the world.

“America only tries to get rid of military regimes, this is their policy. … This is how they operate in the world. In Syria, they are trying to topple the military regime. They supported the rebels to fight the Syrian regime, but ISIS [Islamic State] got their support and they are running the revolution. So, ISIS came from American [foreign policy],” he said.

“In the case of ISIS, it is very shameful for America. They made a mistake and they tried to hide it, but the world knows their mistake.”