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Myanmar monks back down from law seeking to restrict interfaith marriages - report

Source: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 14:46 GMT
Author: Thomson Reuters Foundation Correspondent
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Buddhist monks walk past a police line and security personnel near an Islamic school where 13 boys were killed after a fire on Tuesday, in the central, multi-ethnic Botataung district of the former capital Yangon April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A two-day convention of some 200 monks in Myanmar ended on Friday with a call for peace and communal harmony but with no mention of a draft law that would restrict marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men, Burmese news website The Irrawaddy reported

The monks on Thursday unveiled a proposed law that would require any Buddhist woman seeking to marry a Muslim man to gain permission from her parents and local government officials and any Muslim man wanting to marry a Buddhist woman to convert to Buddhism, The Irrawaddy reported.

Those who didn't follow the new rules could face up to 10 years in prison and could have their property confiscated, it said, adding the monks planned to collect signatures to lobby parliament to adopt the law.

The monks appeared to have backed down from the proposed restrictions on Friday, however.

“To accept or not to accept the so-called restrictions on interfaith marriage will be decided in accordance with human rights [standards]. Anybody can marry at their own will,” The Irrawaddy quoted U Dhammapiya, a senior monk and a spokesman for the convention, as saying.

The new law was proposed by Wirathu, a monk best known for his fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric and a leader of the controversial 969 campaign that calls for a boycott of Muslim-run businesses, according to The Irrawaddy.

Wirathu vigorously defended the draft law on Thursday at a press conference, sitting beside U Dhammapiya and Ashin Saekeinda, the abbot of a monastery in Hmawbi Township, just outside commercial capital Yangon, where the convention was held, the news outlet said.

“But on Friday afternoon, Ashin Saekeinda said he did not know who had circulated the draft law among participants and journalists, adding that it did not represent the position of the monks’ convention,” The Irrawaddy said. 

The draft law was also condemned by eight Yangon-based women’s rights groups, it added. 

Myanmar, where Muslims make up about 5 percent of the 60 million population, has struggled with unrest since June last year when fighting between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya erupted in western Rakhine state.

Reuters’ investigations in two violence-hit areas showed nationalists and Buddhist monks - highly revered and often held up as icons of democracy in Myanmar - incited the violence, which was abetted at times by local security forces.

 

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