Around 40 monasteries are being burnt to the ground in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw to make way for new development projects.
More than a dozen monasteries have already been destroyed after a government order was received on July 5, said Maj Ko Ko Myint, who is responsible for the demolition process, adding that resident monks were instructed to leave their compounds.
“We have permission from the Sangha Maha Nayaka [government-appointed body of high-ranking Buddhist monks] so it is not our decision,” Ko Ko Myint told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “The Sayadaws [abbots] themselves allowed us to destroy these monasteries.”
A senior commander in the new capital, speaking under condition of anonymity, revealed that the destruction was ordered as the monasteries are located in the way of the government’s Naypyidaw Special Development Project.
Zabuthiri Township Administrator Maj Thwin Ko Ko Win also said that monasteries in Zabuthiri, Oattarathiri, Dekhinathiri and Pyinmana Myo-haung (old city) were considered illegally built and “the Sangha [monks] in these monasteries are not real monks.”
“The monasteries were built by themselves and the monks are not notable ones, they just turned to the monkhood one or two years ago,” he added.
Ko Ko Myint said that 15 monasteries have already been destroyed as they each agreed to accept compensation of 400,000 to 50,000,000 kyat (US $470 to $60,000) as of July 5.
“This is a forest area designated for the project and belongs to the state,” he said. “These monasteries are illegally built therefore we have been asked to destroy them. Around 20 monasteries do not want to move, therefore, it has been made public. We have told the Sangha Maha organization about the situation too.”
Although some monastery buildings due to be torn down remain in place, the local authorities say that they will collaborate with the Sangha organization for their removal if demolition orders are not initially accepted.
But a Sayadaw who resides in Sunamani Monastery in Pyinmana Myo-haung said that he has not received any instructions to move.
“I am also a member of the Sangha Maha Nayaka committee,” he said. “We have heard rumors that there will be an order to destroy them, but I have not had any information. We do not know if the monasteries are to be destroyed.
“If the authorities are working together with the township ministry of religion, it is beyond my knowledge.”
The destroyed monasteries existed for a long time and were built by public donations, added the Sayadaw of Pyinmana Myo-haung, who also said that he has lived there since before Naypyidaw was established as the new capital in 2005.
Another monk in Dekhinathiri Monastery told The Irrawaddy that the accusation that their buildings are illegal is merely an excuse, adding that some monasteries did not get any compensation while others which were inhabited many years ago were only offered a fraction of their true value.
“The monks are facing difficulties where to reside as their places were destroyed,” he said. “If the development project also includes our area we might have to move too, but no news has been heard yet.”
The Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Kha contributed to this article.