By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
YANGON — Officials in Rakhine State have sought to downplay fears of building demolitions in Maungdaw District, after a government audit reported that over 3,000 structures had been built without permission.
Comments made in Maungdaw town by state Border Affairs Minister Col. Htein Lin on Sept. 18 about the state’s audit of religious buildings had sparked rumours the government was planning to take imminent action to tear down mosques, madrassas and homes in Rakhine’s north.
State Development Minister U Min Aung told Frontier on Friday that his government had no current plans to demolish buildings, and said Htein Lin’s comments had been taken out of context.
“So many rumours of the numbers of illegal buildings are spreading in the state and across the country,” he said. “But it is true that more than 3,000 illegal buildings exist [in Maungdaw District].”
He added that any action would be determined by the judiciary if the government decided to submit ‘illegal’ building cases to the courts.
As with other state and regional jurisdictions across the country, the Rakhine State government is carrying out a survey on behalf of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture of religious buildings constructed without ministry approval.
Rakhine authorities decided to carry out a parallel survey on other buildings constructed without planning approval in the district, which comprises the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung on the Bangladeshi border.
Min Aung claimed Friday that the same survey of all illegal buildings, rather than solely religious structures, would be carried out statewide.
Rohingya Muslims comprise the majority of the population in both townships. For decades, most Rohingya living in the district have had limited access to healthcare and education. Communal violence in 2012 resulted in increased travel restrictions and the denial of voting rights ahead of last year’s election.
The survey of illegal buildings was denounced in a Friday statement by a coalition of European Rohingya organisations, who said that the government’s actions was an attempt to “destabilise the situation in the territory with intentions to frustrate any attempts to bring about peace and stability” in Rakhine State.
The buildings deemed illegal by the state government included 12 mosques and 35 madrasas, according to the statement.
The Religious Affairs Ministry has distanced itself from the state government’s actions, saying that Rakhine authorities were responsible for the illegal building survey.
“We are not managing audits of all illegal buildings in states and regions. Each state and regional government is managing it and we have already handed over all responsibility for that,” said U Aung San Win, a ministry director.
However, the Arakan National Party has voiced its support for demolishing illegal structures in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, with claims that the number of buildings without planning approval has grown rapidly in the last year.
U Tun Aung Thein, an ANP state lawmaker for Maungdaw, told Frontier on Friday he would raise an objection in the state assembly if the government refused to demolish illegal structures in the township.