YANGON — Myanmar’s ultranationalist firebrand Buddhist monk U Wirathu said he would take up arms if Myanmar’s military leadership is charged at the International Criminal Court (ICC), showing his solidarity with the country’s armed forces, which have been internationally blamed for their alleged atrocities against the Rohingya.
Human rights groups abroad and the international community have been lobbying to refer military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and his subordinates to the ICC for their troops’ actions against Muslims in northern Rakhine State. Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh last year after security clearance operations in the area following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s attacks on police outposts. The Myanmar government denounced ARSA as a terrorist organization. The majority of those who fled the area recounted extrajudicial killing, rape and arson carried out by the security forces. The military has rejected all accusations.
In response to international pressure, nationalists staged a pro-military demonstration called ‘The Obloquy to Condemn Foreign Countries and Organizations Which Abuse and Interfere the State and Tatmadaw’ (military) in downtown Yangon. On Sunday, waving miniature flags of the armed forces, at least 1,000 supporters—ex-servicemen and their family members, Buddhist monks holding portraits of the military chief, some members of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development party and their allies and nationalists—marched through the downtown before ending at the event venue opposite City Hall for a public talk.
The center of the show was U Wirathu, the monk who is internationally infamous for his fiery sermons against Muslims that encouraged Buddhist women to marry opium addicts, drunks, monks, and even dogs rather than Muslim men.
Early this year, Facebook wiped his account, as he used the social media site as a hate-mongering platform. Since then, the 50-year-old monk virtually vanished from public sight. The Sunday pro-military rally was his first reappearance.
During the talk, he said he was against the international pressure, not protecting Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing but Myanmar’s sovereignty, while also stating that there would be a recognized Rohingya ethnicity in Myanmar only when “rabbits get horns and tortoises get hair,” implying when hell freezes over.
Regarding the international pressure put on Rakhine issue, the monk said Myanmar did not need to worry so long as China and Russia were at the United Nations, referring to the two countries stance and veto power thanks to being permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“If there is an ICC charge (against the military leadership) or (decision for) R2P (responsibility to protest), that is the day I will pick up a gun,” he said. But he did not state whom he would be taking up arms against.
“Come here and meet me ICC!” he said to the cheering crowd.
Another speaker was U Win Ko Ko Latt, a hardline nationalist recently released from prison for being found guilty of committing offenses against the State for a protest outside the US Embassy in Rangoon in 2016 against the embassy’s use of the word “Rohingya.”
He said it was Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing who had denied the existence of Rohingya in the country and that the army protected the races and religion of the indigenous ethnic people of Rakhine State.
“That’s the same cause that the nationalists are fighting for. That’s why we have to support the Tatmadaw,” he said.
On Monday, the military-run Myawady Daily reported that the rally was joined by more than 5,000 supporters.
The paper added that pro-military campaigns have been underway across the country since 2016.
“As of yesterday, 80 rallies have been carried out and joined by more than 600,000 people. There will be more in the pipeline.”