Monday, September 25, 2017

Building sealed after violent religious clashes in Yangon

A building at the centre of a religious conflict in Thaketa township was sealed by Yangon City Development Committee on February 19.

A notice banning any building work is nailed outside the site in Thaketa township’s Manpyay quarter after an Islamic religious school was torn down February 19, 2013. (Ko Taik/The Myanmar Times)A notice banning any building work is nailed outside the site in Thaketa township’s Manpyay quarter after an Islamic religious school was torn down February 19, 2013. (Ko Taik/The Myanmar Times)

YCDC officials acted to close the site after several violent attacks during the previous two nights that led to a coalition of monks, police, firemen and volunteers mounting night-time security patrols and guarding of the site.

The building, between 18th and 19th streets in Thaketa’s Manpyay quarter, has been used as a school for Islamist teachings since 1962 but efforts by its overseers to renovate the building have been blocked until this year, when permission was granted by the township’s religious affairs office.

Renovation work began at night in mid-February but residents grew concerned when reinforced concrete pillars were installed and the roof of the building was raised by several feet.

Concerned residents, most of whom are Buddhist, informed the administrative office on February 18 that the renovations were expanding the size of the building. Officials responded by issuing an order to tear off the roof, with labour provided by 15 residents, with the materials piled up outside the building.

A Manpyay resident told The Myanmar Times as the building was being sealed on February 19 that many people thought the school was being converted into a mosque – and that the school’s owners had lied to officials about their intentions when they asked to renovate.

“When they [the school’s backers] renovated the building it was no problem but they kept adding it, and it started to look more and more like a mosque,” he said. “And that’s a big problem because we do not want a mosque on this street.”

Five Buddhist monks waited outside the building for three days to explain the situation to groups of people who arrived at the site. But as tensions increased on February 18, 20 police arrived to secure the area. Residents offered food to the police and other self-appointed guards.

“There were several violent attacks on the nights of February 17 and 18 when people rushed in and smashed things and then ran away. It was not serious but we do not know who did it or where they came from because it was dark,” said a woman cooking meals for the guards on the street.

“We don’t want any violence or a conflict on our street – we want to live in peace,” she added.