Nationalist Monks Refuse to Dismantle Protest Camp in Myanmar’s Mandalay

Nationalist monks and their supporters on Thursday refused to dismantle a camp they set up to protest against the National League for Democracy government in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay, disregarding an official notice from local religious authorities to move it.

About 20 hard-line monks and other nationalists erected the camp in front of historic Mahamyatmuni Pagoda in Mandalay’s Chanmyathazi township in township on Wednesday, calling for the overthrow of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which they say has not dealt effectively with national interest and race issues and has failed to protect the majority Burman nationality and the predominant Buddhist religion.

The township’s Sangha Maha Nayaka (Ma Ha Na), a government-appointed body that regulates the Buddhist clergy, ordered the nationalists to end the sit-in protest against the 16-month-old government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The move came after Myanmar’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture issued a statement giving local Ma Ha Na chapters the authority to deal with the protesters.

Though the township’s Ma Ha Na chapter sent a letter to the monks to remove the camp from its current location, the monks declined to comply. Authorities then went to the area and asked the monks to comply with the law.

Ashin Agga, the hard-line monk leading the protest, said he told authorities that the law did not apply to the nationalists because they were “on strike” rather than protesting.

“There is no law for us because this is a boycott, not a protest,” he said. “What I mean is that we would apply for permission if we intended to protest, but we won’t apply for it now because this is a boycott.”

Myint Oo, a spokesman for the Mandalay demonstration, noted that the Ma Ha Na’s wants the group to move to another location because the camp is located in the Mahamyatmuni Pagoda compound, a famous religious landmark and pilgrimage site.

“It doesn’t mean we have to end the protest or remove the camp,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Ma Ha Na just wanted to tell us to change the location.

Myint Oo said the group responded that they were protesting to protect their nationality and religion and if they did not protest, the future of religious sites such as the Mahamyatmuni Pagoda would be jeopardized.

Monks from the township Ma Ha Na told protest leaders that they would submit the explanation to the Mandalay region’s Ma Ha Na on Friday, he said.

Protest in Yangon

More than 50 monks and their supporters also set up a protest camp in the commercial capital Yangon on Wednesday in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old gilded stupa that is the country’s most sacred Buddhist religious site.

On Thursday, Khin Wine Kyi, a hard-line nationalist and former member of parliament, joined the protest at the Shwedagon Pagoda, calling for the government to respond to the nationalists’ demands, the online news service Democratic Voice of Burma reported

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has updated its original statement, saying that the “monks who are participating in the protest do not represent the monkhood’s wishes,” DVB reported

In May, the state Ma Ha Na banned the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha), an ultranationalist monk organization known for its anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Reported by Set Paing Tow and Thant Sin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin