Karen State: Buddhist militants erect a pagoda on land owned by an Anglican church
The incident occurred in Hlaingbwe, a village in south-eastern Myanmar. U Thuzana, a 73-year-old Buddhist monk from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, ordered the construction in what is the latest challenge to the state’s Christian minority. For the Anglican bishop, Christians harbour “no grudges or hatred”.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Buddhist group has stoked religious tensions last week when they built a pagoda in the garden next to an Anglican Church in Hlaingbwe Township, 90 kilometres from Hpa-an, capital of Karen State.
“Christ said that those who have a heart of gold receive his blessing and shall see God,” said Anglican Bishop Saw Stylo online. Hence, “I would like to urge all of you to have a heart of gold so that you can see God,” rather than “harbour grudges or hatred”. instead of attaching, “practice benevolence, compassion and detachment.”
U Thuzana, a 73-year-old Buddhist monk and spiritual leader of an ethnic armed group, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), led hundreds of supporters to seize land owned by the Anglican Church.
The invaders brought bricks, cement and other materials to build the pagoda. Some belonged to the DKBA and wore military uniforms.
U Thuzana helped found the DKBA in 1994. Originally named the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the DKBA broke away from the predominantly Christian-led Karen National Union (KNU), claiming that Christians discriminated against its Buddhist members.
Some Church leaders urged U Thuzana not to build the pagoda, but when they realised that he would not stop, they simply erected a fence between the Anglican church and the pagoda.
This is not the first time that U Thuzana goes after non-Buddhists and engages in aggressive proselytising. Once, he built a pagoda in front of a police station.
For Saw Kyaw Zwa, a member of the Buddhist Karen Affairs Committee, the monk believes that these actions can generate good karma. He “follows his heart, which tells him where to build pagodas”.
“Of course,” he noted, there are critics who condemn him for building a pagoda near land controlled by another religion. But our monk is just trying to realise his dreams.”
Community leaders in Karen State set up a committee to address such issues. Unperturbed, the septuagenarian monk has continued to build pagodas next to Christian sites.
Many critics have condemned the monk’s actions on social media, but Bishop Saw Stylo posted a message on his Facebook page calling on his followers to remain calm.
Speaking on the matter, Saw Ahtoe, a KNU religious affairs leader, noted that, “Karen [State] has a long history of religious problems.”
“We may write the government to take action,” he explained, “or we may write directly to the DKBA. We will join with other religious leaders to solve this problem.”
Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist. Since 2012, it has been the scene of sectarian clashes that have left at least 300 dead and 140,000 displaced, mostly Muslim Rohingya.
However, even Christians have sometimes suffered at the hands of the Buddhist majority. Most Christians in fact belong to ethnic minorities, who are often marginalised by majority ethnic Buddhist Burmese.
Last September, some Buddhists erected a stupa a few metres from a Baptist church in Karen State.