A senior Myanmar official vowed on Wednesday to stop an influential Buddhist monk from building pagodas near churches and mosques as Christian and Muslim leaders appealed for calm in a country that has struggled with religious tensions.
Supporters of the monk Myaing Kyee Ngu erected a pagoda on Saturday on the grounds of a church in the eastern state of Karen and then build a pagoda near a mosque in a Muslim-majority village in the same township, the AFP news agency reported.
Karen State Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA’s Myanmar Service she is “very concerned about the situation” and would work to stop what one local newspaper called a “stupa-building spree” by zealous Buddhists.
“The pagodas should be built at suitable places for the sake of worshippers. Then, if we want to promote our religion, we shouldn’t bully or oppress other religions. It's not the right way to do so and it’s not our Buddhism’s teaching, either,” she said.
“I have already informed the religious department of the Union Government. I must try to stop further works of the monk,” Nan Khin Htwe Myint told RFA in a telephone interview.
AFP said the office of local MP Saw Chit Khin told the agency that Buddhist authorities had written to the monk to urge him to cease building at places of worship of other faiths.
But local Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo, who oversees Karen state and neighboring regions, told AFP that members of the community “feel very worried and sensitive about it. This might be political as well as religious."
"That is why I asked all local young people, whether they are Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, not to do anything wrong," AFP quoted Saw Stylo as saying.
The Myanmar Times quoted Thein Win Aung, leader of the KAFDG Islamic Organization, as calling on the government to step in quickly to stop the provocative construction.
“It is religious violence. We have been patient after the first time, but he should not be allowed to repeat what he did,” Thein Win Aung was quoted as saying.
Predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has experienced spates of violence directed at religious minorities.
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 in squalid camps.
About 120,000 Rohingya remain in the camps, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Kyaw Aung. Written in English by Paul Eckert.