Myanmar Buddhist Monk Erects Another Pagoda on Disputed Land

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myanmar-anglican-minister-july24-2013-75.jpg An Anglican minister stands inside an Anglican church in Myanmar, July 24, 2013.

A Buddhist monk and 300 of his supporters erected a pagoda on Monday on the grounds of an Anglican church in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state, adding to religious tensions in the area, a local Anglican bishop said.

Influential monk Myaing Kyee Ngu, also known as U Thuzana, who has been building pagodas—also called stupas—near churches and mosques in the state, erected another dome-shaped Buddhist shrine at St. Mark Anglican church in Kondawgyi village of Hlaingbwe township.

“About 300 people, including Myaing Kyee Ngu and other monks, came to the church grounds and cleared the trees last night and built the second pagoda today,” said Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo, who oversees Karen state and neighboring regions.

The monk, who is spiritual adviser to an armed ethnic Karen group, built his first pagoda on the church property on April 23 despite objections by religious authorities.

He has also built pagodas on church compounds in Hpa-an township and near a mosque in Mya Pyi village, prompting many people to condemn his actions on social media, according to the online journal The Irrawaddy.

Myaing Kyee Ngu has plans to build additional Buddhist structures at a church compound in Kondawgyi village, the report said.

Members of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) have helped build the pagodas, according to The Irrawaddy.

Dual claims

Both Christians and Buddhists have laid claim to the land on which the two new pagodas stand.

Christians have lived on the land since the 1950s and built a small wooden church in 1955 on two acres of property, Saw Stylo said.

A Buddhist religious site with ancient pagodas lies on the side of the road opposite the Anglican church, he said.

“We don’t want to say, ‘Build it or don’t build it,’” Saw Stylo said. “We will not fight them. If he [Myaing Kyee Ngu] really wants to do it, then he can do it.”

The Anglican bishop said he met with state Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint and a government team on April 25 to discuss the rumors that the Anglican church sits on disputed land.

“They said they would resolve this problem if the land is disputed,” he said.

Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA last week that she is “very concerned about the situation” and would work to stop what one local newspaper called a “stupa-building spree” by zealous Buddhists.

Buddhist religious lands

Ashin Zawtika, a monk who is a patron of the Karen Culture and Literature Organization, said the places where Myaing Kyee Ngu has been building pagodas are Buddhist religious lands on which other pagodas previously stood.

“Myaing Kyee Ngu has been trying to get these lands back and build Buddhist pagodas on them,” he said.

“It’s good that he’s trying to get them back, but he should have informed the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture and relevant authorities before he did this and collaborate with them to build these pagodas,” he said. “Building pagodas without informing the ministry has been his shortcoming.”

Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has experienced spates of violence directed at religious minorities—mainly Christians and Muslims—for decades.

In Rakhine state in western Myanmar some 140,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced in 2012 after violence erupted between them and local Buddhists, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless. The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live under harsh conditions in displacement camps.

“We are doing our best not to have religious conflicts in the region,” Ashin Zawtika. “What I want to tell people from all religions is to please be patient.”

An end to the religious conflicts will be resolved only by both sides talking to each other, he said.

Interfaith group meeting

Myanmar’s minister of religious affairs and culture met with members of an interfaith group on Wednesday in Mandalay to discuss religious issues, including  Myaing Kyee Ngu’s recent invasive pagoda-building activities.

Aung Ko, a senior member of the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and a former member of parliament, met with seven religious leaders from the Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths.

“We talked about current religious problems during the meeting, and he urged us to be patient,” said Maung Maung, a Muslim leader from the interfaith group.

“We requested that he take action against people who have delivered hate speeches, especially online,” Maung Maung said. “He said that laws will be passed to ensure that people of different religions can live together peacefully.”

Aung Ko said the regional Mahana, an association of appointed Karen State Buddhist monks who oversee local Buddhist clergy, is handling the matter, although a resolution make take time, The Irrawaddy reported.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine, Khet Mar and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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