Christians, Buddhists Brawl in Southern Rakhine on Christmas Eve

By Moe Myint 26 December 2018

YANGON — At least two ethnic Chin preparing for a Christmas Day event were injured in a mob attack led by Buddhist monks on Monday in southern Rakhine State’s Ann Township, according to a local priest.

Rev. Thing Be, who heads the township’s Christian mission, said their pavilion was also vandalized.

He said the dozen or so Chin families of Sappie Village, who make up the small community’s Christian community, were erecting a modest pavilion just outside the village to celebrate their first Christmas Day in the area when about 40 locals led by three monks showed up at about noon and ordered them to stop, at which point a fight broke out.

Rev. Thing Be said he had asked the village administrator for permission ahead to time but decided to proceed with construction of the pavilion before it arrived.

He said Vicar Aung Lan was being treated at the township hospital for wounds he sustained in the attack to his head, and that another member of the Christian community, U Soe Thein, was also injured. He said they were preparing to file a complaint with police.

“As far as I know, an abbot of the Sappie monastery led the attackers. I have video evidence and will use it if the case proceeds to court,” the priest said.

Village administrator U Soe Thu confirmed that there was a fight between local Buddhists and Christians but claimed that no one was seriously injured because township police intervened in time and dispersed the crowd. He said the organizers had failed to heed his advice to apply for permission from him and township authorities in a timely manner.

“They came to me to get approval after the confrontation began and I gave it to them. That’s too late,” he told The Irrawaddy.

U Soe Thu said three abbots from Kan Oo, Sappie and Mae La Maung villages had ordered the event organizers to raised their pavilion somewhere else because the predominantly Buddhist community had never had a Christmas Day celebration before. He also said that the abbots did not have the legal authority to give such an order.

U San Gyi, a member of Sappie’s Christian community who said he witnessed the attack, said monks led the mob and ignored pleas to mediate.

“They told us there was no X-mas celebration in this village before. They would not allow a Christian event on Buddhist land,” he said. “We are very upset about losing our religious freedom and about the restriction of our religious beliefs. We want to celebrate happily like other people.”

U San Gyi said the monks should have tried the mediate the dispute but instead stepped aside when the fighting began.

Numbering only a few families, he said, the local Christian community had no church in the area and has been gathering for prayers in their homes with visits from a priest from neighboring Chin State.

“We can’t afford to buy land for a church, and even if we had land it would be very tough to get approval for construction,” he said.

Last week, people in Magwe Region’s Gangaw Township stoned and broke into a home while local Christians were gathered inside for a religious event. Local police have opened a case under articles of the Penal Code covering trespassing and property damage.