Reuters reports: The Buddhist extremist movement in Myanmar, known as 969, portrays itself as a grassroots creed.
Its chief proponent, a monk named Wirathu, was once jailed by the former military junta for anti-Muslim violence and once called himself the “Burmese bin Laden.”
But a Reuters examination traces 969’s origins to an official in the dictatorship that once ran Myanmar, and which is the direct predecessor of today’s reformist government. The 969 movement now enjoys support from senior government officials, establishment monks and even some members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Wirathu urges Buddhists to boycott Muslim shops and shun interfaith marriages. He calls mosques “enemy bases.”
Among his admirers: Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs.
“Wirathu’s sermons are about promoting love and understanding between religions,” Sann Sint, minister of religious affairs, told Reuters in his first interview with the international media. “It is impossible he is inciting religious violence.”
Sann Sint, a former lieutenant general in Myanmar’s army, also sees nothing wrong with the boycott of Muslim businesses being led by the 969 monks. “We are now practicing market economics,” he said. “Nobody can stop that. It is up to the consumers.”
President Thein Sein is signaling a benign view of 969, too. His office declined to comment for this story. But in response to growing controversy over the movement, it issued a statement Sunday, saying 969 “is just a symbol of peace” and Wirathu is “a son of Lord Buddha.”
Wirathu and other monks have been closely linked to the sectarian violence spreading across Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Anti-Muslim unrest simmered under the junta that ran the country for nearly half a century. But the worst fighting has occurred since the quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011.
Two outbursts in Rakhine State last year killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims. A Reuters investigation found that organized attacks on Muslims last October were led by Rakhine nationalists incited by Buddhist monks and sometimes abetted by local security forces. [Continue reading…]