Rakhine State Lawmakers Urge Myanmar Army, AA: Spare Civilian Areas, Heritage Sites

By Min Aung Khine 25 September 2019

SITTWE, Rakhine State—A Rakhine State lawmaker submitted a proposal to the state parliament on Monday urging both sides of the ongoing conflict not to launch attacks from inside residential areas, villages, public places and religious or cultural heritage buildings.

Lawmaker U Hla Thein Aung of Minbya Township voiced concern about damage to pagodas and ancient buildings in Buthidaung and Mrauk-U townships in the fighting between the Myanmar army, or Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army (AA). He called on the government to ensure the two sides do not take cover in ancient and religious buildings or residential areas.

Lawmaker U Tun Aung Thein of Buthidaung Township seconded U Hla Thein Aung’s proposal. The Rakhine State parliament will debate his proposal this week.

U Hla Thein Aung also called on the Tatmadaw to move their troops away from pagodas in Kyauktaw, Minbya and Mrauk-U townships.

“[The Tatmadaw] has been carrying out artillery attacks from Aung Mingalar Pagoda Hill, which is located in the middle of Pan Myaung village [in Minbya Township],” he told reporters. “As I can’t tell them to leave, I have raised the issue in parliament to ask the government to do what is necessary.”

Three villagers were killed and four others were injured at their homes in Pan Myaung village in late August after they were struck by an artillery shell, which local residents said was fired by the Myanmar military from Aung Mingalar Pagoda Hill.

“I submitted the proposal to prevent things like this from happening again in the future,” said U Hla Thein Aung.

He also sent letters to the President’s Office and the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the state-backed cleric organization, on July 14, complaining that the Tatmadaw had deployed troops to a historic pagoda at the top of Kyein Taung Hill in Minbya Township.

While the government is working to get Mrauk-U, the ancient capital of the Arakanese kingdom, on the UNESCO World Heritage List, U Hla Thein Aung said that both sides have used ancient buildings to quarter troops and as cover during battles. He said that this hurts the structural integrity of the buildings and also hinders the government’s efforts to have Mrauk-U added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

From the 15th century to the late 1800s, Mrauk-U was the seat of Arakanese kings, who at the height of their power controlled an area covering much of eastern Bengal, modern-day Rakhine State and the western part of lower Myanmar. Many of the city’s ruins are well preserved and some 380 historic temples are scattered across its lush hills.

U Hla Thein Aung also complained that the Tatmadaw’s stationing of troops in religious buildings, including pagodas and monasteries, restricts the practice of Buddhism.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.