Buddhist monks led more than 5,000 residents on a demonstration through the streets of Arakan state capital Sittwe on Friday morning to protest the arrival of a delegation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Monk Pyinya Tharmi from Sittwe said the demonstration, carried out with official approval by local authorities, was joined by over 5,000 people even though it was only approved for 500 participants.
“About 100 Buddhist monks are supervising the protest to ensure discipline. The rest are laymen,” said Pyin Tharmi, adding that the demonstrators were chanting slogans.
Protest leader Aung Naing said, “When we sought permission for this protest, we told them we would not chant slogans or march – we undertook to stage a silent protest holding placards. But then the chanting against OIC started!”
He said the protesters also tried to hand over an open letter containing demands by community leaders in Sittwe to the OIC delegation.
Arakan state government spokesperson Win Myaing said, “The OIC delegation arrived at the airport around 11am and was received by the state’s chief minister who explained the measures being taken here [in Sittwe].
“They then flew to Maungdaw in a helicopter and were expected to meet with representatives of both [Arakanese Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim] communities before heading to Pauktaw and Myebon.”
Led by OIC Secretary-General Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and including foreign ministers from seven countries, the delegation arrived on Wednesday in Rangoon where just the day before protestors against their visit had turned out in the former capital and other towns.
On Thursday, hundreds of locals including Buddhist monks staged an anti-OIC protest in the northern Shan state town of Lashio.
Tin Maung Win, an organiser of the Lashio protest, said, “In New York in September, the OIC told UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon that it would try to amend laws in Burma in favour of the Rohingya. We believe their agenda is to get the Rohingya recognised as an official ethnic group in Burma, and we object to that and also to a plan by the OIC to open an office in Rangoon.”
All three protests were staged with official permission from local authorities.
The OIC is yet to make a statement during this visit to Burma.