Buddhist monks in Mandalay protest last year against an attempt by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to open an office in Burma. (Photo: Man Thar Lay / The Irrawaddy)
By Lawi Weng
November 11, 2013
RANGOON — Hundreds of Buddhists in Rangoon and the Arakan State capital of Sittwe are planning to protest against a visit to Burma by a high-level delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) this week.
The 57-member alliance of Muslim countries is planning to investigate the conditions in which displaced Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State are living. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are have been in temporary camps for more than a year, after they fled outbreaks of violence between Buddhists and Muslims. Tensions in the area remain high, and rights groups say the stateless Rohingya continue to face abuses and restrictions.
Tun Hlaing, an Arakanese activist, said he is organizing a protest against the OIC when they arrive in Sittwe. “We heard that they will fly here on November 14. We have organized for about 1,000 people to protest at the airport in Sittwe,” he said. “We condemn their trip because we don’t need them to visit to solve our conflict.”
He said the protesters would seek permission from the local authorities and planned to turn up at the airport with banners telling the delegation they are not welcome.
In Burma’s former capital, Rangoon, between 200 and 300 people are expected to attend a demonstration against the OIC visit, to be held at the Government Technical Institute in Insein Township on Tuesday, according to organizer Wai Lin Aung.
“We believe that these people [the OIC delegation] will stir up trouble in our community and cause problems. This is why we do not want them to come to our country,” said Wai Lin Aung.
According to news reports, an OIC delegation led by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and seven foreign ministers from member states will arrive in Burma on Wednesday and is expected to travel to Arakan State the following day.
According to the minutes of an OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission meeting on Oct. 31, it is hoped the visit “will contribute to the realization of the rights of the Rohingya.”
“The Commission decided to send their own fact-finding mission to Myanmar to assess the situation of Rohingya Muslims. It also considered organizing a seminar/workshop on interfaith dialogue regrouping Buddhist and Muslim religious leaders,” the official minutes said.
At least 192 people were killed and an estimated 140,000 displaced, the majority of them Rohingya, when violence erupted in June and October 2012. Since then, inter-communal violence has broken out elsewhere involving other Muslim communities. Most recently, in September and October, seven people were killed and scores of houses were burned to the ground when Buddhist mobs attacked ethnic Kaman Muslim villages in Thandwe Township, Arakan State.
The efforts of the international community to give aid to the Rohingya have been met with resistance and international NGOs have faced angry accusations of bias in favor of Muslims in their work.
There were nationwide protests last year when the OIC attempted to open an office in Burma. Earlier this year, the Burmese government rebuffed calls from the OIC to allow a delegation to visit and discuss the Rohingya.
Ye Htut, deputy minister for information—who previously said OIC intervention in the issue was unnecessary—was quoted in Monday’s The Voice newspaper welcoming the visit.
“We really want them to see real situation on the ground because they spoke a lot about this, even though they did not know what really happened in the past,” Ye Htut told The Voice Daily.