NAYPYIDAW – A senior Burmese government official has announced plans to demolish hundreds of mosque and Islamic schools’ in the state’s Muslim-majority townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, claiming they were constructed without a permit.
“We are working to bring down the mosques and other buildings constructed without permission in accordance with the law,” Col. Htein Linn, Rakhine’s security and border affairs minister, told local media on Wednesday, Voice of America reported.
An assistant to the Burmese Service minister confirmed the information, adding that Linn is leading the campaign to review and raze an unknown number of structures.
Rakhine State, one of Burma’s poorest regions, is home to an estimated 125,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims, the majority of whom remain confined to temporary camps following waves of deadly violence in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims.
Described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, Burma’s ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingyas, are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Burma’s government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term “Rohingya”, referring to them as “Bengalis”.
Construction of mosques and religious schools in the region was banned in 1962, when military rule was first established in the country.
Muslim community leader U Aye Lwin, a member of a Rohingya conflict investigatory commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, tells VOA that local Muslims are deeply concerned and have already reached out to other Myanmar officials.
“Muslim religious leaders did attempt to meet with the Union Minister for Religious Affairs,” he said.
“There is freedom of religion according to law, and so religious sites should be in place or should be renovated.”
According to a report by the Democratic Voice of Burma, the plan to destroy the facilities “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.”