Extremist monks banned in Myanmar, Duterte’s martial law in south and Singapore’s security robots

By: Will Feuer - Posted on: May 24, 2017 | Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Globe’s daily rundown of the region’s top stories – 24 May 2017

Myanmar Buddhist monk U Wirathu, leader of the Ma Ba Tha attends the third anniversary of the Peace Organization of Ma Ba Tha conference in Yangon, Myanmar, 04 June 2016. Photo: EPA/Nyein Chan Naing

The Region Today – 24 May 2017

Myanmar’s top Buddhist authority bans radical monk group

Amid rising religious tensions in Myanmar, the country’s highest Buddhist authority has sent a letter to government ministries banning the radically nationalist and anti-Muslim Ma Ba Tha group.

Led by one of the country’s most divisive figures, monk Ashin Wirathu, Ma Ba Tha’s members have been central to the religious tension playing out in the country, using their sermons to preach anti-Muslim rhetoric and lobbying politicians to implement anti-Muslim legislation.

Despite the ban, the group still plans to hold a previously planned conference starting on 27 May, according to Ottama, a Ma Ba Tha monk in Yangon. [AFP]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Rampant nationalism in Myanmar leaves Rohingya without allies

Indonesia and Vietnam engage in South China Sea skirmish

According to Indonesian officials, five Vietnamese fishing boats were intercepted north of the Natuna island chain inside Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, leading to a confrontation with the Vietnamese coast guard.

One Vietnamese coast guard ship allegedly rammed one of the fishing boats with an Indonesian official aboard it, sinking the vessel. While no one was hurt, Vietnamese authorities have detained the Indonesian fisheries official and Indonesia has taken 11 Vietnamese fishing crew members into custody. [AP]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Vietnam protests Chinese cruise ships in South China Sea

Duterte declares martial law in southern Philippines island

In response to an attack in southern Marawi city orchestrated by Muslim extremists allied with the Islamic State group (IS), Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte abruptly returned from an official visit to Moscow and declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao.

Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the attack was sparked when troops raided the hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, an internationally wanted extremist Islamic preacher. Militants have laid siege to the city, cutting power and burning down churches.

The martial rule is set to last for 60 days to aid government forces in conducting raids, but some human rights groups fear that the declaration will spur more extrajudicial killings, which have occurred in the thousands during Duterte’s “war on drugs”. [Al Jazeera]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: How civilians are being dragged into Duterte’s war against Abu Sayyaf

Thailand seeks to spur investment with constitutional adjustment

The junta is set to forge ahead with its ambitious Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development project, which it hopes will kickstart Thailand’s stalling economy, three years after the military took control of the country in a coup. 

According to government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a constitutional measure will be implemented this week allowing a panel chaired by the prime minister to directly approve all investment projects in the EEC, expediting a process that has impeded projects in the past.

In the effort to attract more foreign investment, the measure will also allow foreigners to take more than a 50% stake in companies in the aerospace maintenance business and create boost protection of intellectual property. [Reuters]

Related reading from Southeast Asia Globe: Thailand attempts to revive weakening economy

Singapore rolls out robotic security vehicle

Singaporean startup Otsaw Digital is seeking to take security out of human hands with the  creation of an automated vehicle called O-R3. The vehicle has the ability to differentiate between employees and intruders, send a drone to track intruders and flag a bag that has been left unattended for more than five minutes.

The O-R3 is slightly cheaper than paying for security guards and is expected to play a significant role in Singapore’s efforts to become a ‘smart city.’ [Engadget]