Rakhine State to tear down ‘il­le­gal’ mosques

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lin­aung@mm­times.com

The state govern­ment has an­nounce­ment plans to de­mol­ish 3000 al­legedly “il­le­gal” build­ings in two Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity town­ships.

IN a move al­ready gen­er­at­ing back­lash and poised to ex­ac­er­bate com­mu­nal ten­sions, the Rakhine State govern­ment has an­nounced plans to de­mol­ish 3000 al­legedly il­le­gal build­ings, in­clud­ing dozens of mosques and madrasas in two Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity town­ships.

Colonel Htein Lin, state min­is­ter of se­cu­rity and bor­der af­fairs, said the num­ber of il­le­gal build­ings crop­ping up in Buthi­daung and Maung­daw has been in­creas­ing in re­cent years, and so the govern­ment felt it was time to put an end to the sit­u­a­tion be­fore it be­came out of con­trol.

He added that his min­istry will de­mol­ish the build­ings deemed to be il­le­gal. Those who ob­struct the or­der will be sued.

“The de­mo­li­tion will be im­ple­mented by law, not by force,” he said. “We are just pre­vent­ing il­le­gal build­ings.”

The min­is­ter met with res­i­dents from Maung­daw dis­trict and ex­plained the de­mo­li­tion plans on Septem­ber 18.

Haji Maung Bar, a Mus­lim com­mu­nity leader from Maung­daw town­ship, said some of the build­ings pegged for re­moval were farm­steads, while oth­ers were makeshift homes erected in the wake of 2012 vi­o­lence that dis­placed more than 140,000 mostly Mus­lim res­i­dents of Rakhine State.

If the homes are de­mol­ished, the peo­ple liv­ing there will have nowhere to go, he said.

“It’s also ter­ri­ble that they said some mosques are go­ing to be de­mol­ished. If so, then the lo­cal peo­ple will lose their place for pray­ing,” he added.

Ac­cord­ing to the res­i­dents, the more re­cent mosques were es­tab­lished af­ter the re­li­gious sites down­town were shut­tered, and the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­hib­ited gath­er­ings of more than five Mus­lim peo­ple and es­tab­lished a cur­few.

U Hla Myint, a Rakhine eth­nic res­i­dent of Maung­daw town­ship, said the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion should be held re­spon­si­ble for the il­le­gal build­ings in­stead of pun­ish­ing the lo­cals, since the build­ings could not have been con­structed with at least tacit ap­proval.

“How­ever, the de­mo­li­tion plan is good be­cause oth­er­wise we would be de­stroyed by their [the Mus­lim com­mu­nity’s] pop­u­la­tion in the fu­ture,” he said.

Rakhine State is home to over 1 mil­lion self-iden­ti­fy­ing Mus­lim Ro­hingya, who are re­ferred to as “Ben­gali” by the ma­jor­ity in Myan­mar, in an ef­fort to cast them as im­mi­grants from neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh.

Rakhine na­tion­al­ists have long trum­peted fears of be­ing over­taken by a Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion in the state, an anx­i­ety not sub­stan­ti­ated by the 2014 cen­sus, which shows the vast ma­jor­ity of Rakhine State re­mains Bud­dhist.

An im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial in Buthi­daung who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity said that the build­ings slated for re­moval were not only con­structed with­out per­mis­sion, but are also of sub­stan­dard and po­ten­tially haz­ardous qual­ity.

The of­fi­cial added that or­ders from the Min­istry of Se­cu­rity and Bor­der Af­fairs were be­ing awaited be­fore de­mo­li­tion work be­gan.

U Kyaw Min, chair of a Ro­hingya po­lit­i­cal party, the Democ­racy and Hu­man Rights Party, said he feared to give com­ment in re­sponse to the state govern­ment’s plan.

“I can say we want to sus­tain peace with­out anx­i­ety and want to stay with­out feel­ing in­se­cure,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Maung­daw im­mi­gra­tion depart­ment, 12 mosques, 35 Mus­lim schools, 2543 houses, 604 shops and 132 other build­ings are slated for de­mo­li­tion in Buthi­daung and Maung­daw town­ships.

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