Arakan State’s Border Affairs Ministry has pledged to bring down all buildings in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships constructed without permission from local authorities, including mosques and madrasas.
Speaking to residents of the state capital Sittwe on Tuesday, Border Affairs Minister Colonel Htein Linn said that the authorities would look to take down illegally constructed buildings in the two townships bordering Bangladesh.
“We are working to bring down the mosques and other buildings constructed without permission in a set period of time in accordance with the law,” he said, adding that the state government would issue an official announcement in the near future.
Htein Linn previously mentioned the plan at a meeting held on Sunday with local government departments and Muslim community leaders. The Muslim leaders pointed out that bringing down the mosques could create unnecessary tensions between the state’s Buddhist and Arakanese communities.
“This plan could result in religious violence and other undesirable problems,” said one Muslim community leader from Maungdaw. “This is not constructive and creates a dilemma for local people.”
According to statistics by the regional immigration department, there are currently 2,270 buildings constructed without permission in Maungdaw, including nine mosques, 24 madrasas, 1,667 residential homes, 445 shop spaces and 125 buildings categorised as “other”.
In Buthidaung, official figures show that there are a total of 1,056 illegal buildings, including three mosques, 11 madrasas, 876 homes, 159 shops stalls and seven buildings in the “other” category.
Arakan State has a sizeable Muslim community that includes the stateless Rohingya, a group that is denied citizenship under Burmese law. The Rohingya are largely confined to Sittwe and to townships bordering Bangladesh, including Buthidaung and Maungdaw, where they make up the overwhelming majority of the local population.
Tensions between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya have been high since the outbreak of deadly communal riots in 2013 that left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 homeless.