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Illegal mosques to be demolished in Myanmar’s Rakhine

Muslim leaders concerned plan to raze illegal structures in majority Muslim townships could cause tension in troubled state

21.09.2016 - Update : 22.09.2016
Illegal mosques to be demolished in Myanmar’s Rakhine file photo


By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar

A senior government official in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State has pledged to tear down all illegally constructed buildings including mosques and Muslim religious schools, according to a report Wednesday.

More than 3,000 structures including 12 mosques and 35 madrasas (religious schools) built without permission from local authorities in the majority Muslim townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in Rakine’s north are facing demolition, the local Voice Daily newspaper reported.

Rakhine’s security and border affairs minister, Col. Htein Linn, was quoted as saying, “we are working to bring down the mosques and other buildings constructed without permission in accordance with the law.”

The plan to demolish religious buildings has led to concern among residents, with Muslim leaders indicating that such moves could create unnecessary tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the western state, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reported.

“This plan could result in religious violence and other undesirable problems,” an unnamed Muslim leader from Maungdaw was quoted as saying. “This is not constructive and creates a dilemma for local people.”

The western state has seen a series of communal violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims since 2012, leaving nearly 100 people dead around 140,000 displaced, mostly members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim community.

Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups, have officially been referred to as “Bengalis” in Myanmar -- a term suggesting they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

During a meeting with residents in the state capital Sittwe on Tuesday, the security and border affairs minister said Rakhine’s government would issue an official announcement in the near future with a time set for the demolition, the Voice Daily reported.

“It’s a must to crack down on the growing illegal buildings,” said Htein Linn.

According to the state government, there are currently 2,270 illegally-built buildings including nine mosques and 24 Muslim religious schools in Maungdaw, and 1,056 illegal buildings -- among them three mosques and 11 madrasas -- in Buthidaung.

As Muslims make up over 90 percent of the total population of the two townships bordering Bangladesh, most of the buildings to be demolished are owned by Muslims, according to the DVB report published Monday.

Since the National League for Democracy's victory in the Nov. 8 election, leader (and now State Counselor) Aung San Suu Kyi has been placed under tremendous international pressure to solve problems faced by the country's Muslim population, but has had to play a careful balancing act for fear of upsetting the country's nationalists, many of whom have accused Muslims of trying to eradicate Buddhist traditions.

Suu Kyi has, however, enforced the notion that many of the issues causing religious tensions in Rakhine -- the area at the heart of the problem -- are economic, and is encouraging investment in the area, which in turn her party hopes will lead to reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

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