Myanmar and Sri Lankan hard-liners ink agreement

AP News
Posted: Sep 30, 2014 12:40 PM
Myanmar and Sri Lankan hard-liners ink agreement

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Myanmar Buddhist monk and a Sri Lankan ultranationalist both known for campaigning against Muslims signed an agreement on Tuesday to work together to protect Buddhism, which they say is being challenged worldwide.

Ashin Wirathu leads the fundamentalist 969 movement that has been accused of instigating deadly violence against minority Muslims in Myanmar. He was a special invitee Sunday at a rally of Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, which also has been accused of instigating violence and claims minority Muslims are trying to take over Sri Lanka by having more children, marrying Buddhist women and taking over businesses.

"The Buddhist society of the world has awoken to the ground realities of subtle incursions taking place under the guise of secular, multicultural and other liberal notions that are directly impacting on the Buddhist ethos and space," the agreement said.

To achieve their goals, the groups agreed to raise their voices against political or religious groups that "jeopardize Buddhist values," linking Buddhist thinkers and activists and taking "collective action" when their members are threatened by anti-Buddhist forces.

The groups also agreed to protect Buddhist archaeological and heritage sites.

They said the agreement is a preliminary declaration of an eventual "Buddhist international."

"I expect a lot of problems because I have decided to work with Bodu Bala Sena for the upliftment of Buddhism. But we are ready to face anything," Wirathu told reporters before signing the papers.

"The problems will not be from within but from outside," Wirathu said, without elaborating.

He insisted that the partnership was not intended to harm any religious group.

Joining forces with 969 could boost an already soaring support base for Bodu Bala Sena, which, in turn, could exacerbate mistrust and tensions between Sri Lanka's majority Sinhalese-Buddhists and its Muslims, who comprise 10 percent of the country's 20 million people.

Politically, President Mahinda Rajapaksa's credibility among Muslims is likely to erode further after his government allowed Wirathu to visit Sri Lanka despite opposition from Muslim groups, including his own allies.

Wirathu's 969 started on the fringes of society but now claims supporters nationwide in Myanmar.

Hundreds of people died in 2012 sectarian violence in Myanmar, with about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, forced from their homes. Buddhist monks were accused of instigating and sometimes actively participating in the violence.

Bodu Bala Sena is also accused of instigating violence against Muslims in June which killed two and injured dozens. Many shops and homes were also destroyed by fire.