Rakhine State to tear down ‘illegal’ mosques
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.