Nationalist monks forced three Muslim vendors out of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda on Saturday in a row over selling goods near the religious site.
Members of the Patriotic Monks Union seized products worth hundreds of dollars from the men, who sold belts, pots and mobile phone accessories, before violently kicking them out of the pagoda.
“They hit my face and attacked [with] knee and took me into the monastery for a beating,” Ye Ko Ko, one of the vendors, told Myanmar Muslim Media.
In an interview with Coconuts Yangon, U Thu Seikkta, a leader of the Patriotic Monks Union, denied the beating had taken place inside the monastery.
“I was not beating him in the monastery,” he said. “But he was lying and he tried to run away while we were outside the monastery. At that time, I hit his head with one blow.”
The monk said his group had complained about Muslim vendors in pagodas for the past five years and decided to take action.
Vendors are a common sight in Myanmar’s biggest pagodas, which are popular with tourists. Shwedagon is the Buddhist-majority nation’s holiest religious site.
“Gradually, Muslims are occupying this pagoda (Shwedagon) as vendors, who can guarantee that they will not bomb the pagoda one day?” said U Thu Seikkta.
He promised to return the goods if the three vendors could show letters from police and local authorities saying they would not work at the pagoda again.
Posting an account of the row on his Facebook page, Thet Swe Win from the National Youth Congress asked his followers to stand up for the rights of Muslims in Myanmar.
Relations between the religious minority and segments of the country’s Buddhist majority have been strained since anti-Muslim riots broke out in 2013.
“This happens because we don’t have rule of law,” Thet Swe Win told Coconuts Yangon, referring to Saturday’s row. “Should people just watch these unjust happenings on stand on the right side?
“Now it is necessary for every individual to demand the truth as it is time to change.”
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