Myanmar’s most powerful Buddhist group withdraws support for military junta, calling for ‘armed minority’ to end killing

Over 210 anti-coup protesters have been killed in the military’s crackdown since 1 February

Myanmar has endured more than a month of nightly internet shutdowns

One of Myanmar’s most powerful Buddhist groups is calling for an end to the killing of unarmed protesters as it withdraws support for the military which is increasingly being isolated.

The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (Mahana), a government-appointed body that oversees Myanmar’s Buddhist monkhood, has decided to stop its activities following a meeting, according to a Myanmar Now news report.

The report quoted one of the 47 monks who attended the meeting and said that Mahana’s draft five-point statement called on authorities to end violent arrests, torture and killing of unarmed civilians by an ‘armed minority’ and to prevent the looting and destruction of public property.

An official statement would now be issued after Mahana submits the decision to Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs and culture on 18 March.

Monks in Myanmar were at the forefront of the 2007 uprising against military rule and a rift with the military now may boost the anti-coup protesters.

Recently, Pope Francis also appealed for an end to violence and said: “Even I kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say stop the violence.”

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On Wednesday, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, said they continue to be deeply concerned over the more than 2,000 people arbitrarily detained for their participation in peaceful protests or political activity.

“The team is also condemning the use of force against children, with at least 15 having been killed; that’s according to the UN’sChildren Fund (UNICEF),” the spokesperson said.

The violence in the southeast Asian nation is continuing in defiance of repeated demands from the United Nations and countries worldwide. Myanmar’s neighbours in Asia also tried to resolve the crisis but have remained unsuccessful so far.

On Thursday, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an activist group, said nine people were killed in the protests on Thursday taking the total number of those dead in the anti-coup protests to 217.

It, however, emphasised that the actual number of casualties is likely much higher.

However, despite the military’s lethal crackdown, the protesters have continued to come out on the streets. The authorities have also restricted the internet services but that has not dissuaded the protesters.

Authorities have also ordered some newspapers to shut while some have shut down due to logistical reasons.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “People exercising their rights to peaceful, public assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of association should be listened to, not cracked down and certainly never shot at! #Myanmar military junta must stop violence against protesters! #SaveMyanmar #WhatsHappeninglnMyanmar.”

On 1 February, the military replaced the democratically-elected government of Myanmar hours before the first sitting of the new parliament citing election fraud. In November 2020 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) party won 396 out of the 476 available seats while the the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party had won only 33 seats.

Since then, a series of cases including that of bribery have been filed against Ms Suu Kyi, and if she is convicted she may be barred from politics.

Additional reporting by agencies

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