Religion Minister Raises Concerns Over Pagoda-Crazed Monk

By Zarni Mann & Lawi Weng 4 May 2016

MANDALAY — Unresolved religious tensions in Karen State could affect national peace, stability and reconciliation, according to Religious Affairs and Culture Minister Aung Ko, who was referring to one monk’s recent spree of pagoda-building on other faiths’ lands.

U Thuzana, a Buddhist monk and spiritual leader to an ethnic Karen armed group, and his followers recently built pagodas in Christian compounds and near a mosque in Karen State, prompting the minister’s comments at an event on Wednesday in Mandalay, where he met with members of an interfaith group based in the city.

“Since there are armed groups involved, solving these urgent problems could affect the peace and stability of the region, as well as the ongoing national reconciliation and peace process,” he said, referring to members of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), some of whom helped build the pagodas.

He added that the matter is currently being handled by the regional Mahana, an association of appointed Karen State Buddhist monks that oversees and regulates local Buddhist clergy; however, resolution in at least one case may not come quickly due to a dispute over which of the groups, Christians or Buddhists, are the rightful claimants to the land.

“We need to be patient, wait for an appropriate time, and work step by step starting from within,” Aung Ko said. “After the Mahana makes their decision, the state government will step in.”

Despite protests from the Christian community, the monk continued his mission last month, believing that rebuilding on the sites of demolished pagodas would bring good Karma.

Since he imposed on church compounds in Hlaingbwe and Hpa-an townships, and near a mosque in Mya Pyi village, hundreds of people have taken to social media to criticize and condemned the monk’s actions.

Meanwhile, U Thuzana has plans to build additional structures in a church compound in Kondawgyi village, where monks chanted on Tuesday to bless the area marked for construction.

The monk first built on the church property last month, despite objections from religious authorities. Tensions increased again when he recently began laying the foundation for Buddhist ordination and assembly halls nearby.

Karen State Religious Affairs Minister Min Tin Win told The Irrawaddy that officials from his ministry and religious groups would visit Kondawgyi village on Wednesday night to see where U Thuzana intends to build on the Christian property and decide what to do afterwards.

“A Buddhist ordination hall should be built on Buddhist land,” he said. “But, this land belongs to Christians.”

Lawi Weng reported from Rangoon.