Myanmar monks urge peace after religious bloodshed

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 14 Jun 2013

06/14/2013 08:23 GMT

YANGON, June 14, 2013 (AFP) - Senior monks in Myanmar on Friday appealed for peace following a surge in religious bloodshed in the former junta-ruled nation, in a joint statement that stopped short of condemning a wave of anti-Muslim attacks.

After two days of talks between more than 200 monks at a monastery near Yangon, the Buddhist clerics accused media of tarnishing their image with allegations that monks were at the forefront of the violence.

"All Buddhist leaders and Buddhists want to live peacefully, without any conflict," they said in a statement read out by senior monk Dhammapiya.

Describing Buddhism as one of the "best religions in the world", he said that "all citizens of Myanmar support policies that encourage living peacefully".

Sectarian bloodshed -- mostly targeting Muslims -- has laid bare deep divides that were largely suppressed under decades of military rule which ended two years ago in the Buddhist-majority country.

Dozens of people were killed in religious riots in March in central Myanmar, where AFP journalists saw some men in monk robes wielding sticks and knives during the unrest.

Dhammapiya said that while several monks had taken part in anti-Muslim attacks, others were mistaken for perpetrators as they tried to intervene to halt the mob violence.

"We denounce reports (in the media) that wrongly accuse and harm the dignity of Buddhists and Buddhist monks," he said.

At the same time, senior clerics distanced themselves from a call from controversial Mandalay monk Wirathu for restrictions on inter-faith marriage.

Under the proposal, which Wirathu said he plans to submit to President Thein Sein and other officials, non-Buddhists wishing to marry Buddhist women would have to convert with approval from the government -- and gain permission from her parents to wed -- or risk 10 years in jail.

"This law is my dream. I have been dreaming of it for a decade," Wirathu, whose anti-Muslim remarks have come under scrutiny in recent months, told reporters at the conference on Thursday.

"The reason I'm trying to have this law enacted is because Buddhist girls have lost freedom of religion when they married Muslim men," he said, noting that Malaysia and Singapore also had restrictions on inter-faith marriage.

Senior monks said, however, that the idea was not formally discussed at the meeting.

"We are only thinking how to live peacefully. We're not thinking to draft any law. It can cause much misunderstanding and division," said Vimala, a senior monk from Kabar Aye Buddhist University.

"We want to ask both sides to live peacefully by stopping violence and conflicts," he told AFP.

"Muslims also do not need to be afraid. We have laws in this country. People should not be afraid of each other but show respect for and value each other."

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