This week, authorities in Yangon have arrested two Buddhist hard-line nationalists following raids conducted by the Patriotic Monks Union (PMU) on flats in a predominantly Muslim district of Yangon, Myanmar. Two weeks ago, the PMU forced the closure of two Islamic schools. Both incidents represent another episode in the long persisting tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar.
Friction between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim groups in Myanmar have been significant since the transition to democracy through 2012 and 2013, which caused widespread death and displacement. The situation has worsened since October 2016 when 75,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh in response to attacks by insurgents where they were subjected to rape and murder. Actions committed by nationalist groups have continued to target the Rohingya population.
The recent arrests come as part of the initial crackdown on nationalist hardliners by the government, particularly in response to rising concerns about the outbreak of violence in Yangon, which is home to a significant Muslim population. Security has been increased in the area, particularly around places of worship.
It has been noted that the PMU acted autonomously from the Ma Ba Tha, a Buddhist anti-Muslim organisation embraced by Wirathu, who was once branded “Myanmar’s Bin Laden.” Ma Ba Tha is scheduled to hold their national congress in the capital in approximately two weeks with around 10,000 expected to attend.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her administration have faced criticism for failing to protect the Rohingya population, who have faced persecution throughout the nation. There are around one million Muslims in Myanmar who identify as Rohingya and who are perceived by the government as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Discriminatory measures against the population have included the denial of citizenship and severe restrictions on their day to day lives. In March of this year, the United Nations human rights council announced an investigation into the alleged abuses against the population, however, the nation has continued to block outsider access to districts with significant Muslim populations.
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