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Myanmar Government Tears Down Illegally Built Religious Structures

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. (Photo: AFP)

August 8, 2016

Myanmar’s central government is demolishing Buddhist and Islamic religious structures across the country that were built on state-owned land without permission from state or regional officials, director of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs Myint Win Zaw said Thursday.

“Every religion in Myanmar has to follow rules and regulations,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We announced this in newspapers to let people know that every person and organization needs permission to build religious buildings.”

The government grants permission to build mosques, temples, and pagodas called stupas to people who obtain proper documents, including recommendations or agreements from the state or regional governments and local organizations and residents, he said.

“If there are religious buildings that were built without permission, we will remove them, and we will take action against those who constructed them if they don’t listen to us when we tell them to remove them,” Myint Win Zaw said.

The government is now removing 173 Buddhist monasteries in lower Myanmar’s Yangon region and 86 monasteries in other states and regions that were constructed without official permission, he said.

The central government’s actions come 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.

The trustees removed three extensions to the mosque, but refused to demolish one part because it had been funded by private donations, the report said.

Authorities charged the trustees with violating the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law of 2012, but the mob burned down the structure before legal proceedings could begin, it said.

The five people responsible for the incident will be tried in court in Kachin state, Myint Win Zaw said.

Pagoda-building spree

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.

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 to supposedly reclaim ancient Buddhist lands.

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.

In June, an angry mob of about 200 Buddhists destroyed parts of a mosque and a house belonging to a Muslim family following a disagreement between a Muslim man and a Buddhist over the building of a Muslim school in Thuye Thamain village in south-central Myanmar’s Bago region.

The Muslim man suffered head injuries during the attack, and 70 Muslim residents sought overnight shelter in a local police station.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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