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Nationalists Behind Forced Ramadan Prayer Site Closures in Hiding

By Kyaw Myo 28 May 2019

NAYPYITAW—Two nationalists who led the forced shutdown of three temporary places of worship set up for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in South Dagon Township have escaped to the protection of an armed group that have signed a peace agreement with the government, according to deputy police chief Police Maj-Gen Myo Swe Win of the Myanmar Police Force.

On May 15, U Michael Kyaw Myint and U Thiha Myo Naing led around 200 nationalists who forced three temporary worship sites to close in South Dagon Township, despite the fact that the Yangon regional government had given Muslim community leaders permission to use those buildings during Ramadan.

“Michael Kyaw Myint was previously in charge of the business affairs of an armed organization that has signed a ceasefire agreement. We found out that both them are taking shelter with that organization. So we are taking action in coordination with the concerned bodies,” said Police Maj-Gen Myo Swe Win at a press conference in Naypyitaw on Monday.

A South Dagon Township administrator filed a complaint against the two under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code with the township court on May 16, and the arrest warrant was issued for the pair on the same day.

“They were already on the run,” said the deputy police chief. The police were able to trace [them] based on the number plate of [Michael Kyaw Myint’s] car which was spotted going through a toll gate on the Old Yangon-Mandalay Highway on the evening of May 17.

The police found the car inside the compound of a pagoda in Mandalay Region two days later, but the two were not there.

“We only found a woman who is a relative of [Michael Kyaw Myint]. We later concluded that the two stopped in Bago and took a passenger bus [from there],” said the deputy police chief.

The Irrawaddy tried to call U Michael Kyaw Myint but his phone has been powered off.

“It is important that the two are held accountable. This will act as a deterrent to future incidents,” said South Dagon Township Lawmaker U Thein Naing in the Yangon regional parliament.

On the evening of May 15, at their request, the township administrator allowed around 50 people, led by five Buddhist monks and U Michael Kyaw Myint, to see the houses being used for prayer sites in South Dagon.

At around 11 p.m., a 200-strong crowd gathered in front of the township administrator’s office, and demanded the closure of those sites, saying that they are being used as mosques.

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