Christian religious leaders are concerned that the construction of a stupa in a Baptist church compound in Mi Zine Village in Karen State’s Hpa-an Township may cause religious tensions.
Leaders from the Myanmar Baptist Convention (MBC) asked Myaing Kyee Ngu Sayadaw, who led construction of the stupa, to halt the project, according to Mann San Thein Tun of the MBC.
“The Sayadaw said there were pagodas and stupas [in the area] since the time of King Asoka. He even asked us to understand that he had to [build the stupa] because of happenings in his previous existence,” Mann San Thein Tun told The Irrawaddy.
The Christian church has stood since 1919, the MBC representative said, and construction of the stupa began on August 21.
Christian leaders of the MBC conveyed their concerns to Burma’s Religious Affairs Minister Soe Win who pledged to resolve the issue, Mann San Thein Tun said.
“We made the request to the Religious Affairs Minister U Soe Win in person on Sept 7. He gave us two promises: that he would talk to Myaing Kyee Ngu Sayadaw and settle the issue to the satisfaction of Christians at an opportune time,” he said.
The Irrawaddy contacted both the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Naypyidaw and the Karen State government, but officials declined to comment.
The church’s vicar, Michael, who has served at the church since 1980, said some Christian worshippers had been disturbed enough that they had stayed away from the church compound.
“Christians could not pray at the church since the stupa was built. They pray at my house because it is not convenient for them to pray [at the church] as [Buddhist monks] recite religious verses with loud speakers close to the church. We asked them to reduce the volume just for an hour while we are praying, but they said they could not,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Some locals in Mi Zine, a small village of around 150 households that includes a Buddhist community, are concerned that construction of the stupa could lead to heightened religious tensions.
“There are other vacant spaces in the village where they can promote their religion. Why don’t they choose one of those places? They did not inform the church in advance of the stupa’s construction. It is quite strange. Some locals here are suspicious that they are creating religious problems,” said a local, who did not want to be named.
The Karen National Union (KNU) also expressed concern over the issue, pointing to past examples of communal tensions.
“There were riots… resulting from religious issues [in the past], which in fact should not have happened. Therefore, we are concerned that [tensions] might arise again,” said Padoh Ar Toe, responsible for internal and religious affairs with the KNU.
Myaing Kyee Ngu Sayadaw is an influential monk in Karen State with reputed ties to local ethnic armed groups including the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).
The Irrawaddy could not reach Myaing Kyee Ngu Sayadaw for comment on Tuesday.