YANGON (AFP) – The use of faith for political ends is “playing with fire” said US Assistant Secretary of State Mr Tom Malinowski, as the American diplomat decried Myanmar’s growing religious intolerance on January 16.
His comments came as hundreds of monks staged a rally, marching between Shwedagon Pagoda and the Old Race Course at Kyaikkasan Sports Ground, blasting the United Nations for perceived bias towards Rohingya Muslims, in the latest show of strength for Buddhist nationalists.
“We expressed a concern that the use of religion in particular to divide people — whether it is done for political or for any other purposes — is incredibly dangerous, particularly in an election year,” Mr Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told reporters after a six day mission to Myanmar.
The delegation voiced fears “this really is playing with fire and exposing the country to dangers that it is not prepared to handle,” he added.
Crowds of maroon-robed monks thronged near Shwedagon pagoda holding signs against the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Ms Yanghee Lee, who is also concluding her visit to the country on January 16.
Mr Malinowski criticised barriers to citizenship for the Rohingya, most of whom are stateless and subject to a web of restrictions.
He also raised particular concern about a set of controversial laws proposed by President U Thein Sein in response to campaigns by hardline Buddhist monks.
The draft legislation; including curbs on interfaith marriage, religious conversion and birth rates, are seen by activists as particularly discriminatory against women and minorities.
They are yet to be passed by parliament, but the high-level support from government has raised fears over growing politicisation of religion in the diverse and conflict-prone nation.
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