Myanmar: Army warned off extremist comment in Rakhine

Myanmar’s powerful army chief has warned military personnel to avoid expressing extreme views on religion during a visit to western Rakhine State, where communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya has left dozens dead since 2012.
Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing's visit comes as Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy government tries to rebuild relationships between the two communities, and boost the economy of one of the country's poorest areas.
On Wednesday, Min Aung Hlaing underlined to officials, soldiers and families the battle against extremism in a meeting in the western state's capital Sittwe, during an on-going rescue and relief operation for victims of the monsoon season.
“Anyone can protect and safeguard their own religion and culture in a fair and just manner without [resorting to] extremism,” he said, according to a statement released Wednesday by his office.
Since her victory in the Nov. 8 election, State Counselor Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by Rohingya but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate the country's Buddhist traditions.
Such groups are demanding that the government adopt the term “Bengali” to refer to the Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the world’s most persecuted minority groups. The term suggests the Rohingya are not Myanmar nationals, but illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
The government has instead suggested to the United Nations and the international community that “Muslim community in Rakhine state” should be used instead of “Bengali” or “Rohingya" to avoid inflaming tensions.
During Tuesday's trip, the army chief outlined that Buddhists account for 52 million, or 87 percent of Rakhine's population, while 6 percent follow Christianity and 4 percent Islam and other faiths.
The statement comes as an ultra-nationalist monk-led group formed after the violence in Rakhine in 2012 -- the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (better known as Ma Ba Tha) -- faces dissolution.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported Wednesday that Ma Ba Tha is an unlawful association under the Sangha (monk) organization law, citing a statement of the government-sponsored committee -- the State Sangha Mahayanaka Committee -- tasked with regulating Buddhist orders.
Ma Ba Tha is responsible for a series of laws seen as designed to stop Muslims having multiple wives, large families and marrying Buddhist women, draws support from the country's uneducated Buddhist masses, and has rapidly become one of the country's most powerful religious organizations.


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