U Wirathu, an ultranationalist monk notorious for his inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, is visiting Maungdaw Township in Arakan State, where mostly stateless Muslims that identify as Rohingya have been the targets of deadly riots and an army crackdown.
Border police are providing security for the monk, a high-profile member of Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha, who was banned from delivering sermons for a year starting in March because of his religious hate speech. U Wirathu will stay at Alodaw Pyei monastery in downtown Maungdaw, which is constantly under police watch, according to a local resident. He has asked authorities for permission to visit northern Arakanese villages.
Most Arakanese Buddhists strongly deny the claim of the region’s Rohingya—roughly 1 million—to belong in Arakan and, like the government, refer to the minority as “Bengalis,” a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A Maungdaw police officer said that U Wirathu had brought rice to donate to the Arakanese community. Local media reported the amount of rice as 3,000 bags.
Ma Ba Tha follower Ko Phoe Thar, who is travelling with U Wirathu’s entourage, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the group was waiting for permission from the state government to visit Arakanese villages in the area. Without naming the locations, he added that authorities had designated some areas off-limits because of safety concerns.
He declined to provide details about the length of the trip and about whether the monk had plans to speak out in the area. Local media reported that the trip would last for six days.
Separately, Ahnu Lamar, the 60-year-old owner of one of two houses that were destroyed in a fire in Sittwe’s Muslim quarter on Wednesday night, has been detained for questioning.
Hundreds of residents came out to see the fire and one was hit and wounded by a small stone, said Major Cho Lwin, adding that Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin deployed 50 officers to break up the crowd.
Local Rohingya resident U Kyaw Hla Aung told The Irrawaddy over the phone on Wednesday that some Arakanese people threw stones at the burning homes as Muslims tackled the blaze.
He is concerned that U Wirathu’s visit will embolden nationalist groups in Maungdaw, adding that many Arakanese reportedly support the monk because he said the Rohingya should be deported to Bangladesh.
U Wirathu visited Maungdaw several times following rioting in 2012 between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Arakan State. During the visits, he blamed the clashes on Muslims, demanded their deportation, and stirred up ultra-nationalist sentiment.