Wirathu to Visit Conflict-Torn Northern Rakhine

By Moe Myint 12 October 2017

YANGON – Amid the ongoing self-identifying Rohingya crisis in northern Rakhine State, notorious inflammatory firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu landed in state capital Sittwe on Wednesday and is scheduled to travel to conflict-riven Maungdaw Township.

Ethnic Arakanese Ko Phoe Thar who is assisting the relief efforts of Alodaw Pyae monastery and and assisting the visit of Wirathu told The Irrawaddy that the monk has already requested permission from local authorities to visit conflict-torn Maungdaw district and is waiting the government’s response.

“We can’t say exactly his schedule. Maybe he will contribute cash to displaced ethnic Arakanese people via Sittwe or maybe he will directly meet with villagers in Maungdaw. It’s up to the decision of the authorities,” said Ko Phoe Thar.

Sittwe residents posted on Facebook that Wirathu and local monks donated 1.8 million kyats to displaced people from Maungdaw who have sought refuge in some monasteries.

Tin Maung Swe, secretary of Rakhine State government office, said: “[Wirathu] went [to Maungdaw] previously and this time we will also allow. What else?”

The region has been locked down, with journalists and international aid agencies prohibited from entering the area, since militant attacks on Aug. 25.

The government has conducted a number of guided tours for diplomats, journalists, and UN officials while the UN and NGOs call for unfettered access to deliver life-saving aid to vulnerable communities.

A few Arakanese civil society groups publically criticized the visit of Wirathu, including coordinator of Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association (KRDA) U Tun Kyi, who pointed out that Mandalay Region, where Wirathu is based, has a number of problems with Chinese immigration and investment including the Letpadaung Copper Mine.

“Why did he deliberately pick up Rakhine to voice out nationalism, rather than Mandalay?” said U Tun Kyi.

He explained that Wirathu has visited Rakhine in the past, but did not improve the situation on the ground in Rakhine State.

U Tun Kyi said he was concerned that the current problem in Rakhine is one of nationality, but it could easily be changed into an issue of race and religion.

“Politics and religious should not be mixed. I don’t like it indeed,” said Tun Kyi.

Meanwhile, ethnic affairs expert U Maung Maung Soe urged the government to establish a coordination team which contains representatives of the Muslim community in Rakhine State in order to control administration works in border towns.

Self-identifying Rohingya Muslim Kyaw Hla Aung told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Thursday that the cabinet members of Rakhine State did not come to meet the Muslim community in Sittwe and they have no idea how to consult for the National League for Democracy (NLD) government regarding the Rohingya crisis in Maungdaw.

“We are not even allowed to leave the camp and know nothing about Maungdaw at this moment. So how can we make a suggestion to authorities?” said U Kyaw Hla Aung.

The interaction between the NLD-led Rakhine State government and the Muslim community is weak, he said.

“Even when they did show up here, we don’t know the right person to share our ideas with. I assume they don’t actually want to listen to our opinions”, said U Kyaw Hla Aung.

U Kyaw Hla Aung remarked that Wirathu is travelling with his own plan to lend a hand for the Buddhist community while the Muslim community is contained in a camp.

According to UN estimations, more than half a million Muslims fled neighboring Bangladesh and are sheltering in makeshift camps. Both Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities have formed joint-committee for repatriation process but have not yet announced a precise timeframe for the implementation.