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Activist Buddhist Monk Erects Pagodas on Christian Church Grounds

BURMA

The influential Buddhist monk U Thuzana has erected by force two Buddhist pagodas in two weeks on a tract of land belonging to an Anglican church in Karen State, in southeastern Burma, without permission from the local Christian community.

In a move that risked inflaming religious tensions, U Thuzana, better known as Myaing Kyee Ngu Sayadaw, ordered dozens of his supporters to build the unsanctioned pagoda on grounds of St. Mark Anglican church on May 3 in Kun Taw Gyi, a village in Hlaingbwe Township in Karen State.

St. Mark Anglican church was built in 1963 on land that had belonged to the Christian community for at least 70 years.

Saw Stylo, the leader of the Anglican church said surrounding Christian communities are unhappy with U Thuzana, who has built four other pagodas and a stupa on Christian compounds in different locations across Karen State.

One pagoda was built on April 23 by 400 to 500 of the monk's followers also on the grounds of the Anglican church. The monk himself presided over the completion of the construction.

“They [the monk's followers] came into our church compound and took out our posts and fence. They planted their Buddhist religious flags. They didn't care about anyone else. It was like a force overrunning our compound. It was scary. They built the pagoda and finished it around 8 p.m the same day. U Thuzana came to put the crown umbrella on the pagoda,” said Saw Stylo.

U Thuzana is a powerful adversary who controls the Karen Buddhist-led militia previously known as Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) before it was converted into the government's border guard force.

The Buddhist monk forcibly installed two pagodas and a stupa in Karen State, one pagoda and a stupa in August of last year and another pagoda in February of this year. These moves were followed by the latest pagoda constructions on April 23 and on May 2 of this year.

Though local Christian communities protested after the first pagoda and stupa went up in Pa-an, Karen State, their protests did not bring any tangible result. Christian communities and leaders' expressions of disappointment and concern over religion tension between Buddhists and Christians did go viral on social media, however.

Saw Stylo urged local Christians to respond to the latest intrusion without violence and anger, in accordance with belief and practices of Christianity. Rather than attack and seek to quarrel, Saw Stylo called for peace and forgiveness to avoid further religious tension.

“We heard that the monk has plans to build more pagodas in Karen State. If the government doesn't take action properly, it will become a problem. Our Christians are suffering,” said Saw Stylo.

U Thuzana's power stems from his many followers, including the border guard force he controls, which is backed by the Burmese Army. He also plays a significant role in Karen politics.

In 1995, U Thuzana was the driver of a split between previously united Christian and Buddhist Karen people groups. The Karen National Union divided into two factions along religious lines, with Buddhist-led and Christian-led militants fighting and killing one another as a result.

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