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Buddhists Protest Impending OIC Visit to Burma

San Yamin Aung The Irrawaddy

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RANGOON — About 1,000 Buddhists took to the streets of Rangoon on Tuesday afternoon to protest the visit of a delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) this week, with marchers beginning at Shwedagon Pagoda and concluding their demonstration in the heart of downtown.

The protesters included novice monks, their adult counterparts and women, with the crowd marching from the eastern stairway of Shwedagon Pagoda to City Hall near Sule Pagoda, shouting “OIC—we don’t want!”

“If the OIC comes to offer its support in business, education, or health care, we would accept this. But if they want to intervene, scatter the races and religions of the country, and destroy the sovereignty of the nation, we will never accept them,” the monk U Thumingala, secretary of the Protect Race and Religion Organization of Dala Township, told The Irrawaddy.

According to reports, an OIC delegation led by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and seven foreign ministers from the organization’s member states will arrive in Burma on Wednesday and is expected to travel to strife-torn Arakan State the following day.

Minutes from an OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission meeting on Oct. 31 indicate that the organization hopes that the visit “will contribute to the realization of the rights of the Rohingya,” a persecuted Muslim minority numbering some 800,000 in Arakan State.

“The Commission decided to send their own fact-finding mission to Myanmar to assess the situation of Rohingya Muslims. It also considered organizing a seminar/workshop on interfaith dialogue regrouping Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders,” the official minutes said.

Participants of Tuesday’s protest march seemed unlikely candidates for any OIC-orchestrated interfaith dialogue.

“They will try to interfere in our race and religion,” said the monk U Pamaukkha from a monastery in Rangoon’s East Dagon Township. “When they arrive here, they will consult with adherents of their religion and report back biased news to the international community. As a consequence, they will try to monitor inside our country.”

Ye Htut, Burma’s deputy minister for information, posted on his Facebook on Tuesday that the government had arranged for the OIC delegation’s visit so that the organization could gain an understanding of the real situation on the ground in Burma. The delegation would bear witness to efforts to resolve communal conflicts and rebuild violence-wracked communities in Burma, Ye Htut claimed.

The deputy minister said there would be no discussions related to the OIC opening an office in Burma and added that the government would “respond” to any false news or exaggerated claims that might come out of the visit.

“We are protesting because we do not want to them to open an office here. If they just visit here, we’ll allow it,” said Myint Myint Aye, a 50-year-old female protester.

There were nationwide protests last year when the OIC attempted to open an office in Burma. Earlier this year, the Burmese government rebuffed calls from the OIC to allow a delegation to visit and discuss the Rohingya.

There were also protests in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, on Tuesday, and protesters said they planned to protest on Wednesday as well.

The 57-member alliance of Muslim countries is planning to investigate the conditions in which displaced Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State are living. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been living in temporary camps for more than a year, after they fled outbreaks of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the country’s west. Tensions in the area remain high, and human rights groups say the stateless Rohingya continue to face abuses and restrictions.