Tamils are either Catholics or Muslim and are held in suspicion by the military and militant Buddhists, including several high profile radical monks such as Ashin Wirathu, whose fiery sermons concentrate on racist diatribes against Muslims and Christians. On multiple occasions Wirathu openly has called for the extermination of the Muslim minority, known as the Rohingya. The latter, who have had to across the border to Bangladesh, have had open conflict with the central government for at least 10 years.
A minority of the nation’s Buddhist clergy, perhaps 10%, openly supports the military and its attacks against ethnic and religious minorities.
Since the coup, more than 12,000 people have been arrested and an estimated 1,600 killed in the conflict, including 50 children. According to media reports, the military junta has deliberately targeted churches, other institutions, and civilians. In March military aircraft attacked a town in the east of the country, causing severe damage to a Catholic convent’s roof, ceiling, and windows.
The junta's crackdown follows a pattern of more than a century of the military attacking Catholics and other religious and ethnic minorities throughout Burma, burning down churches, imprisoning those who are labeled as dissenters, and restricting the movements and activities of Catholics throughout the country in general.
There has been a great deal of animosity between the Catholic community and militant Buddhists ever since the end of the British Raj in 1945. Two of Burma’s first native saints were both martyred by radically xenophobic Buddhist monks, a cultural abberration since most of the country’s monks hold Catholics and priests and religious in high regard due to their charity work.
Pope Francis visited Burma, also known as Myanmar, in November 2015. Since the coup he has repeatedly called for peaceful dialogue and end to persecution in the country.