Religion tensions have increased following the building of a Buddhist pagoda in the compound of a Christian church located in Hpa-an Township.
Local community and religious leaders are worried that the construction of the pagoda and a temple in the compound of the Baptist church in Mezaing (Mae Sit Hta) village in Hpa-an township, Karen State will lead to increased religious tensions.
U Thu Zana, the abbot of Myaing Gyi Ngu, a highly influential monk in the area, ordered the construction of a pagoda without getting permission from the Mezaing church.
Naw Grace, a member of the Mezaing church said the construction of a 13.5 ft. high pagoda and a temple in the church compound began on August 21, 2015.
Speaking to Karen News, Naw Grace said.
“From August 21, the abbot, Myaing-Gyi-Nyu, came and marked out the site for the construction. Right after that they started building the pagoda without asking permission from anyone. They ignored the protests of the church officials.”
Naw Grace said the church members are upset about the unauthorized construction. “We requested the officials responsible for these issues to help mediate and solve the problem.”
An abbot from the Kyar-in Pawdawmu Temple in Hpa-in Township said he is concerned that the situation in Mezaing would increase the already volatile religion and national tensions between Christians and Buddhists.
The Baptist Church in Mazaing was built 95 years ago on 1.52 acre of land and in 2014 the land was registered as church property with the government land registration office as church property with Naw Grace as the titleholder.
A pastor in the Hpa-an/Mawlamyine Baptish Mission region urged officials from all religion groups to mediate in this case because they do not want religions tensions in the areas and that they just want to live in harmony.
Karen News is led to understand that it was originally planed for U Thu Zana to place the crown of the pagoda on September 10, but due to protests from religious organizations, the plan has been postponed.
Saw Michael, the pastor of Mezaing church said.
“The crown of the pagoda has not been put up yet – it is still beside the pagoda”.
A member of the Karen State Government cabinet who asked to remain anonymous said, “The Myaing Gyi Nyu abbot is not prepared to compromise we are concerned that the situation will get worse. The state government has to be very careful in how we handle this case.”
Locals people told Karen News that the Union government, the State government, the Karen National Union and officials and leaders from religion groups would need to solve the case urgently and carefully.
A KNU team from its Interior and Religious Affairs Department led by Padoh Saw Ar Toe investigated the Mezaing case. The team met religious leaders, state officials and local people in Myaing Gyi Ngu, Mezaing and in Hpa-an from September 7 to 10. The team has submitted its finding to the KNU central committee on September 14.
In early September, the Karen Unity and Peace Committee composed of religious and political leaders also met with Myaing Gyi Ngu abbot to discuss the issue ,but failed to settle the case as the abbot refused to compromise.