Myanmar Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs orders demolition of pagodas illegally built on church lands
The Burmese government has ordered the demolition of Buddhist stupas (pagodas) built on private property or state owned without permission from state or regional officials. Myanmar’s director of the Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs Myint Win Zaw (pictured) on 30 July 2016 told Radio Free Asia: “Every religion in Myanmar has to follow rules and regulations.” He added: “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.” On 23 April 2016 an influential Buddhist monk, Myaingyikhu Sayadaw and about 500 followers built a pagoda on the grounds of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Kwan Taw village in Karen State. A week later he returned and built a second pagoda on the church grounds. The Rt. Rev. Saw Stylo, Bishop of the Diocese of Hpa-an urged Christians not to be drawn into conflict with the monk and his followers. In a letter to the church he urged them to “avoid confrontation and build peace and reconciliation.” In June Bishop Saw told RFA’s Myanmar service the church would not confront the monk directly but would seek government intervention to stop the encroachments and harassment. Under the plans announced last month the government said it would remove 173 Buddhist monasteries in the Yangon region and 86 monasteries in other parts of the country, including those built on Anglican church properties. Buddhist monk Myaingyikhu Sayadaw 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. The government’s decision comes amidst heightened tension between hardline Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, that has spilled over into confrontations with Christians. However, the ethnic and sectarian violence of the past year has so far been confined to Buddhist-Muslim disputes.