YANGON: A firebrand monk slammed Aung San Suu Kyi as a “dictator” on Wednesday, accusing Myanmar’s civilian-led government of trying to destroy an ultra-nationalist Buddhist group blamed for a surge in sectarian violence across the country.
The attack came after the body representing Myanmar’s top monks distanced itself from the hardline Ma Ba Tha movement, a blow to its clerical legitimacy.
The Ma Ba Tha is a noisy, monk-led group at the forefront of virulently anti-Muslim protests in Myanmar in the three years since it was founded.
Wirathu, the movement’s most prominent figure, posted his scathing remarks on Facebook.
“I have seen that the ruling party and the new civilian government is stepping forward to target me as ‘Enemy Number One’ to destroy the whole Ma Ba Tha group to the end,” he wrote.
He also described the administration as “a woman dictator’s government which is going to put me in prison.”
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a landslide victory at last November’s elections.
Wirathu’s comments came after the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, which represents the upper echelons of the clergy in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, issued a statement late Tuesday saying it had never endorsed Ma Ba Tha.
The ultra-nationalist group recently said it was established under the committee’s rules, a claim refuted by the country’s top monks, putting clear water between the mainstream Buddhist clergy and the hardline group for the first time.
The statement came hours ahead of a two-day gathering of around 50 of Myanmar’s top monks inside a man-made cave on the outskirts of Yangon at which Ma Ba Tha is expected to be discussed.
In his Facebook post, Wirathu suggested the Sangha was being controlled by the government because it was “part of the state’s religious ministry” and “has to carry out the will of the government.”
The Ma Ba Tha emerged as a potent political force under the former military-backed government, successfully lobbying for a series of laws that rights groups say discriminate against women and religious minorities.
Scores of people have been killed in sectarian riots that have billowed out in step with their protests.
But the organization lost out in the November elections that saw their allies in the ruling party trounced by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
It has since been trying to claw back ground, in recent weeks reviving its vitriolic rhetoric that portrays Islam as a threat to Buddhism.
Last month two mosques were destroyed by Buddhist mobs in the center and north of the country.
Much of the anti-Muslim invective in Myanmar has targeted the Rohingya—a minority denied citizenship and relegated to apartheid-like conditions ever since deadly riots tore through western Rakhine state in 2012.
Their very name invokes strong emotions in Myanmar, with the Ma Ba Tha leading protests for the Rohingya to be known only as “Bengalis”—shorthand for illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
De facto Premier and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has faced widespread censure from rights groups for failing to speak up for the group—who the United Nations has labeled one of the world’s most persecuted people.