Rakhine Buddhists protest aid agencies

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A file photo shows ethnic Rakhine Buddhists attending a demonstration. Wiki Commons CC BY-SA

YANGON (Reuters) – Hundreds of Buddhists took to the streets in western Myanmar yesterday to protest against aid organisations they accuse of giving support to Muslim Rohingya militants, police and a protest leader said.

Buddhist monks and members of the Rakhine ethnic group held demonstrations in 15 towns, including the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, demanding that aid agencies leave the western state immediately, Htay Aung, a self-described leader of the protests, said.

“We will protest again and again until we get our demands. If the government fails to act, that is their responsibility,” he said.

Tensions have risen once again in Rakhine since seven Buddhists were found hacked to death in the north of the state in July.

The government said it had discovered forest encampments that proved Muslim “extremists” were responsible, and the military sent additional forces to the area this week.

Ethnic Rakhine Buddhists have long accused UN and other aid organisations of favouring the Rohingya with aid.

Pictures shared online of yesterday’s protests showed saffron-robed monks holdings signs reading, “We don’t need terrorist supporter group”, and calling for the UN and INGOs to “get out”.

Htay Aung said the protesters demanded the government rid the state of Muslim militants, quickly verify the citizenship credentials of Muslims and allow Rakhine Buddhists to form armed militias.

Police Major Cho Lwin estimated about 600 people protested in Sittwe. “The protest went ahead today peacefully,” he said, adding that police had stepped up security and blocked roads leading to aid offices.

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