HARDLINE Buddhist-nationalist group Ma Ba Tha plan to change their name to enable the group to continue their activities, in response to a ban imposed by a government body in Burma (Myanmar).
Thousands of members of the group also known as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion defiantly attended a two-day conference over the weekend, despite an order from the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the state’s top Buddhist body, on May 23 to disband it.
On Sunday, senior monks decided the group would rebrand itself to the Buddha Dhamma Foundation.
“We will keep going as a body protecting our race and the religion,” declared one monk known as Bhiwantha, as quoted the Turkish press agency Anadolu Agency.
Ma Ba Tha is credited with whipping up sectarianism and virulent anti-Muslim sentiment across Burma, including in April when a group of around 100 monks and Buddhist nationalists forcibly shut down four Islamic schools in Thaketa Township near Yangon.
On Sunday, senior Ma Ba Tha members expressed their desire to enter politics due to the government’s lack of will to “protect religion.” They will reportedly register a political party under the name 135 Patriot Party in the next month.
Firebrand monk Ashin Wirathu, a key member of the Ma Ba Tha who the Sangha Committee banned from preaching for a year, labelled the country’s religious minister Thura U Aung Ko “a dickhead.”
“Stop insulting the actions of Ma Ba Tha, whose members have been working with faith,” he said.
Anti-Muslim sentiment in Burma is most potent in the troubled Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim minority are effectively stateless and have been subjected to violence and persecution at the hands of Buddhist vigilantes and Burma’s security forces.
The UN has claimed that more than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed in the army’s operations in Rakhine and at least 70,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late 2016.