Buddhist Monk Saydaw Wirathu, the self-styled "Burmese bin Laden", has rejected claims that his 969 nationalist campaign was behind violence in central Myanmar's city of Meikhtila against Muslims.
In an interview with Irrawaddy website, Wirathu blamed "kalar" - a scornful term for Muslims - for the Meikhtila sectarian riots that left at least 20 people dead. "They were carrying knives, sticks and other weapons and attacked the Burmese," he said. "When the crowd heard that one monk was killed during the unrest, they went to the kalar quarter without weapons. Only one Burmese person out of ten carried a stick from the ruined houses, and no other weapons. [...]So, the planned attacks came from the Muslim quarters."
Wirathu, who has led numerous vocal campaigns against Muslims in Burma and was arrested in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim literature, denied that the 969 campaign was responsible for the unrest. "People blame 969, saying it is involved in the atrocities because they cannot find the real culprits. [But] the 969 leaflets were not found and no one distributed it in Meikthila," he argued. "The 969 campaign was made the culprit, but actually it is innocent as it only represents the special attributes of the Buddha."
The numerology of 969 is derived from the Buddhist tradition in which 9 stands for the special attributes of Buddha; 6 for the special attributes of his teaching or Dhamma and 9 for the special attributes of the Sangha or Buddhist order.
In a controversial video that emerged on YouTube, Wirathu called for a national boycott of Muslim businesses in Myanmar. Buddhist monasteries have been distributing anti-Muslim leaflets for months, according to reports. Wirahtu himself was arrested in 2003 for distributing anti-Muslim leaflets and has often stirred controversy over his Islamophobic activities.
According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, Wirathu played an active role in stirring tensions in a Rangoon suburb in February, by spreading unfounded rumours that a local school was being developed into a mosque,
An angry mob of about 300 Buddhists assaulted the school and Muslim-owned businesses and shops in Rangoon. The 969 symbol was found spray-painted on damaged cars and Muslim buildings in other Myanmar areas after the Meikhtala riots.
The monk also criticised Aung San Suu Kyi and her National league for Democracy (NLD) for not doing enough to protect Buddhists in Myanmar. "I have been supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi through the years, but she was not a reliable leader during the Rakhine State [sectarian] unrest," he said, referring to last year's clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Burmese.
"Nearly every NLD township office is operated by Muslims," he continued. "So I said the symbol of the NLD peacock is becoming a symbol for Muslims.[...] They are not very reliable in supporting the public in the case of the Arakan State riots. They don't stand on the side of the public.
"They don't issue a specific statement to say that Rohingya [Muslims] are not a recognized national minority [in Burma] and they should condemn the killing of Arakanese [Buddhists] by Bengalis [Muslims]," he continued.