Monk blames Myanmar's military for Rohingya unrest

Prominent activist accuses army of using Rakhine conflict to stay in power, criticises other monks for protests against Muslim Rohingyas

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 September, 2012, 2:12am

Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, who was a top leader of the 2007 "saffron revolution" against Myanmar's junta regime, has blamed the military for the ongoing ethnic unrest in the country's Rakhine state.

Gambira also criticised the monks in Mandalay who recently demonstrated demanding the deportation of all Rohingya, the Muslim people living in Rakhine

The former monk - who is now known as Ko Nyi Nyi Lwin since he took off his robes earlier this year - said the military was "exacerbating the conflict in an attempt to retain its relevancy" in the country.

Expressing his view in a letter, a translation of which appeared on some Myanmar activists' websites this week, he said: "The violence between Rakhines and Rohingya in Arakan state [Rakhine's former name] is an example of how dictatorships all over the world rely on and use conflicts to stay in power. The military systematically uses divide-and-rule policies on the grounds of nationality, religion, economic and education status, etc., to divide people and to keep itself necessary and relevant.

"There have been conflicts between Buddhist monks and Muslims before. The military dictatorship always benefited from it. These ethnic clashes are still being encouraged by the military to keep the people separated."

Gambira said he did not support the way the monks in Mandalay recently demonstrated, demanding all Rohingya be deported from Myanmar.

He said: "I feel sad to know that some Buddhist monks have joined demonstrations and campaigns against Rohingya.

"In 2007, we kindled a fire of dhamma all around the world. Do I need to explain to these monks again the meaning of Buddha's words?"

The military, against whom Gambira and his fellow monks had led the uprising five years ago, remained most powerful and the dictatorship was continuing, he noted.

"The same people who ruled Burma before are now presenting themselves as a legal government before the world," he said.

"Nothing has changed in Myanmar. The neo-military dictatorship is exploiting and fostering a new national crisis - the Rakhine-Rohingya conflict - for its own purposes.

"We had started a metta [Sanskrit for 'loving-kindness'] campaign with slogans for peace and democracy… The campaign included members from all religions. But now, the Rakhines and Rohingya having turned against each other violently; our campaign for peace has fallen apart."

In his letter, Gambira also criticised the government and the majority community for reacting "wrongly" to the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman which triggered the ethnic violence in Rakhine.

He wrote: "The three Rohingya who raped a girl should have been dealt with by the rule of the law, which is equal for all - Rohingya or Rakhines, Burmans or Shan. It was wrong the way that the entire Rohingya community was blamed and punished…"

Gambira was one of the top organisers of the All Burma Monks' Alliance that led the 2007 uprising in Myanmar.

Tens of thousands of monks took part in the anti-government uprising, which was also supported by the Muslim Rohingya.

In 2008, Gambira was sentenced to 68 years' jail for his role in the uprising.

After four years behind bars, he was released along with other political prisoners in an amnesty in January.

Shortly after his release, he visited the state of Kachin for a week and met the tribespeople there. But police detained him again briefly in March to interrogate him over this visit.

In April, he renounced his monkhood and disrobed to return to the life of an ordinary Myanmar citizen.

He has been living at his parent's home in Meikhtila, Mandalay, since then.