msa November 25, 2014

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post

Published Sun, November 23 2014

Muslims and Buddhists in Indonesia are joining forces to push for conflict resolution in Myanmar, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has been persecuted and denied citizenship for more than three decades.

Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said that in collaboration with the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Council of Buddhist Communities (Walubi), it would make a trip to Myanmar in December to start a dialogue with Buddhist monks there.

“I agree with the United Nations which said that the conflict in Myanmar could be resolved by allowing the Muslim community and Buddhist community to meet and talk. This is not only a problem for Myanmar, but also our concern,” NU executive council chairman Slamet Effendy Yusuf told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Slamet said his team had finalized preparations for the trip to Myanmar. He added that the Indonesian Embassy in Myanmar had arranged meetings with some monks in the country.

Slamet, a former Golkar Party politician, said that NU, the MUI and Walubi had also organized a screening of a movie portraying the peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Buddhists in Indonesia.

“One of the scenes shows the sun rising at Borobudur temple, during which time you can hear the adzan [Muslim call to prayer],” he said. “This is to show how we as Muslims and Buddhists can live together in harmony.”

Borobudur temple is the largest Buddhist monument in the world, located in the predominantly Muslim city of Magelang in Central Java.

The film will also show celebrations for Waisak, the Buddhist Day of Enlightenment, taking place around the Borobudur compound. “You can see how Muslims merrily join the celebrations,” he said.

Suhadi Sendjaja from Walubi said that through the visit, he hoped that people in Myanmar could learn from Indonesia.

“Here, the number of Muslims is so many while the Buddhists are only a few, but we are safe. In Myanmar, it is the other way around,” he told the Post on Saturday.

Suhadi, however, was quick to add that the Indonesian delegation would not force a reconciliation in Myanmar.

“We will not direct them toward a reconciliation. We will only explain our situation in Indonesia,” he said.

The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee approved on Friday a resolution urging Myanmar to allow its persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority “access to full citizenship on an equal basis”.

Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya have been denied citizenship and have almost no rights. Authorities want to officially categorize them as “Bengalis”, implying they are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. People who reject that identity become candidates for detainment and possible deportation.

In recent years, attacks by Buddhist mobs have left hundreds dead and 140,000 trapped in camps, while other Rohingya are fleeing the country.

US-based interfaith organization Religions for Peace said that as a follow-up to the visit, members of the Buddhist community in Myanmar are expected to visit Indonesia.

“It should happen both ways. They should come to Indonesia and make friends with Muslims. This has never happened before and I think this is important,” Religions for Peace deputy secretary-general Kyoichi Sugino said.

Sugino said that members of the international community, especially countries that have close diplomatic ties with Myanmar, such as EU countries, Japan and Indonesia, could play a role as mediators in the conflict between Muslims and Buddhists in the country.

He said the fifth World Peace Forum, which is currently underway in Jakarta, has allowed relevant parties to develop a dialogue mechanism for the Rohingya and the Myanmar government.

“Therefore, all relevant parties should start discussing so that international NGOs and other countries could act as facilitators,” said Sugino.