Yangon – Some of the mosques that were closed following a wave of inter-faith violence in Magwe Region 10 years ago reopened on Tuesday.
“As the temporary prayer sites are small and inconvenient, the government is allowing prayer at mosques that were previously shut,” Magwe Region Chief Minister Dr. Aung Moe Nyo told The Irrawaddy.
The Irrawaddy was not able to confirm the number of mosques reopening in the region, or how many had been closed. U Soe Win, a lawmaker for Chauk Township in Magwe’s regional parliament, said two mosques in his constituency were being reopened.
“Previously, they were designated as restricted areas. Now prayer is allowed again. It is to ensure freedom of religion in line with the policy of equality articulated by the government,” U Soe Win told The Irrawaddy.
Sectarian violence broke out between the Buddhist and Muslim communities following the rape of a female villager in Salin Township. The violence spread across Magwe and some mosques, including the two in Chauk, were torched by rioters.
The reopenings follow military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s recent donations to non-Buddhist communities. The regional authorities had previously tried unsuccessfully to reopen the two mosques.
The regional government conducted a poll about the reopening of the two mosques in Chauk earlier this year and sought the approval of Buddhist monks. Residents reportedly raised some objections and the reopening was delayed.
“Muslims have lived here since the Bagan period and the population is increasing. Mosques are places for prayer. If religious buildings are closed, the prison doors will be open. If you want to close the prison doors, there is a need to open religious buildings,” said Muslim leader Hajji U Aye Lwin.
On Tuesday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing donated cash and provisions to a Muslim hospital, a Christian home for the aged, Hindu religious communities as well as a monastery and the Sangha Hospital in Yangon.
It was the military’s third series of donations to non-Buddhist religious communities in two months, in a move it stated was aimed at building unity. The military chief previously made donations to churches and mosques in Naypyitaw’s Pyinmana Township and Mandalay.
The donations were aimed at building political, social and religious cohesion in the country, military spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun said.
The senior general said during his visit to the Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar in Yangon on Tuesday that there would be no discrimination on the grounds of race and religion against real citizens, according to Hajji U Aye Lwin, who was present.
“There might be various reasons behind these donations. In my opinion, they have changed their mindset and tactics a little. It is the first step on the right track. This is better than no visit [to non-Buddhist communities] at all, and we should welcome it optimistically,” Hajji U Aye Lwin told The Irrawaddy.
Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was accused by some observers of making donations to non-Buddhist communities in response to international pressures. The military denied this.
While meeting non-Buddhist faith leaders in Mandalay earlier this month, the commander-in-chief called for cooperation and unity to ensure rule of law and stability, warning against the abuse of religion to incite political unrest and conflict.
The military chief met the Kachin Baptist Convention leader, Dr. Hkalam Samson, days after the military dropped a lawsuit against him.
In July, during a meeting with US President Donald Trump, the Kachin Christian said there was no religious freedom in Myanmar and that oppression and torture were still common. He also asked the US to back Myanmar’s transition to “genuine” democracy and to support federalism. The military then filed a complaint against him.
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