Demolition of Religious Buildings in Myanmar's Rakhine State Set to Start

myanmar-destroyed-mosque-thuye-thamain-village-bago-june24-2016.gif A Muslim man stands inside a mosque destroyed by a Buddhist mob in Thuye Thamain village in southern central Myanmar's Bago region, June 24, 2016.

Rakhine state government officials are moving to demolish more than 3,000 allegedly illegal buildings, including a dozen mosques and more than 30 other religious buildings, in the Maungdaw District, RFA’s Myanmar Service has learned.

During a meeting in the state capital of Sittwe, a committee of village elders was convened to take stock of illegal buildings that need to be razed, Rakhine State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin told RFA.

Those buildings include 12 mosques, 35 religious school buildings and more than 2,500 houses and other structures that were constructed over the years without permission from the authorities, he said.

Maungdaw area village chiefs were notified of the decision on Sept. 18, he said. It was unclear exactly when the demolitions would occur, or precisely how the buildings were chosen.

Tensions between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in various parts of the country flare up from time to time over the building of religious structures.

The troubled Rakhine state is home to more than 1.1 million stateless Rohingya Muslims whom many Burmese call “Bengalis” because they consider them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s Buddhist majority has long subjected the Rohingya to persecution and attacks and denied them basic rights, including citizenship.

Earlier this year, Myanmar authorities began demolishing Buddhist and Islamic religious structures across the country that were built on state-owned land without permission from state or regional officials.

In August the government began removing 173 Buddhist monasteries in lower Myanmar’s Yangon region and 86 monasteries in other states and regions that were constructed without official permission.

The central government’s actions came as authorities in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state arrested five local villagers who led a Buddhist mob that burned down a mosque on July 1 in Lebyin Village of Lone Khin Village Tract of Hpakant township.

Several days prior to the incident, township authorities told trustees of the mosque that they would have to demolish the structure because it had not been legally authorized for religious purposes, according to a report in the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Buddhist monk Myaing Kyee Ngu, also known as U Thuzana, has been erecting stupas on the grounds of churches and mosques in eastern Myanmar’s Karen State since April in an act of defiance supposedly aimed at reclaiming ancient Buddhist lands.

He is also an influential figure within the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), a splinter group of the predominantly Christian-led Karen National Union, a fellow ethnic armed organization, according to The Irrawaddy.

Despite objections by religious authorities, Myaing Kyee Ngu and his supporters built several stupas on the grounds of St. Mark Anglican church in Kondawgyi village of Hlaingbwe township and elsewhere in the village.

Reported and translated by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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