Myanmar blocks major Islamic organization from opening a local office


Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, addresses the UN General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City.


John Moore

Muslim people who live in Myanmar's western Rakhine state are known as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world's largest Islamic body, has responded to a recent wave of violence with plans to open an aid office in Myanmar. But now, Myanmar President Thein Sein has bowed to political pressure and says that he will not allow the OIC to open the aid office, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The president will not allow an OIC office because it is not in accordance with the people's desires," an official from Sein's office said in a statement to the AFP. 

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The OIC office plan was not popular among Buddhist monks, who are a powerful political group in the predominantly Buddhist country. Thousands of monks marched in Myanmar's cities today to protest against the proposed OIC office, Reuters reported.

Sectarian tensions in Myanmar's western Rakhine state erupted in June between the Buddhist Rakhine community and Bengali Rohingya Muslims, the Associated Press reported. Ninety people died and tens of thousands of people were displaced. Both Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples were burned down. In response, Myanmar had agreed to let the OIC open an office in Yangon to provide aid for Muslims who lost their homes in the violence.

But locals reacted with anger to the plan. The head of an influential news magazine, for example, had said that there wasn't a need for an OIC office because "we are not a member of the OIC and we are not an Islamic country," according to the AP. 

Some of the Rohingya refugees have also attempted to escape the persecution by fleeing to Bangladesh, only to be met with more persecution. In August, Human Rights Watch reported that the Bangladeshi government was placing "cruel" restrictions on humanitarian aid to the refugees.