Residents have resisted the junta’s occupation of religious buildings in Rakhine State, as Myanmar army reinforcements arrive and set up posts in monasteries and mosques in northern Buthidaung townships, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya.
In Buthidaung alone, soldiers are said to have stayed in monasteries in at least four villages and the historic 31 Kingdoms Pagoda, as well as mosques in three communities.
“They do what they want. These are public places they should avoid. They do it deliberately to instill fear in the public,” a former parliamentarian from Rakhine state from Buthidaung told Myanmar Now.
According to a resident of the 1,000-person village of Kyein Chaung, at the time of writing, Myanmar army troops have been stationed near the compound of a local mosque for more than two weeks.
“They are hiding behind the walls of the mosque compound,” the local man said. “Although they didn’t bother us, we are still afraid to enter the mosque now that they are here.”
Other armed groups, including the Arakan Army (AA), are active in the Kyein Chaung area, located eight kilometers from the administrative center of Buthidaung. The man said villagers feared the mosque and nearby houses would be destroyed if fighting broke out.
An abbot of Mrauk-U said pagodas on two hills in the township – Shwe Taung and Thin Kyate Taung – were also occupied by Myanmar army troops and he had avoided visiting the sites due to the presence of the Army.
“We don’t want them setting up their bases in villages or religious buildings,” he said.
Junta forces are also believed to be positioned at Mahamuni Pagoda in Kyauktaw, on the road from Mrauk-U to the state capital of Sittwe, and gunfire was heard from the site.
“They stay in the compound of the pagoda and fire shots. It’s such an inappropriate thing to do. As a Buddhist, I condemn such actions,” said a Kyauktaw resident.
Soldiers have been stationed at Kyein Taung Pagoda in Minbya since before the Thingyan festival in mid-April. Residents said they were only allowed to pray at the site with military permission.
“To be completely honest, I don’t like the fact that the army is setting up bases in buildings of any religion,” a Minbya resident told Myanmar Now.
Tensions have been rising in Rakhine state since last November, when the AA and the military clashed for the first time in a year. Battles also took place in the northern townships of the state last December, as well as in February this year.
Junta bases around the town of Ann, where the Myanmar Army’s Western Regional Command is based, as well as in Buthidaung and Mrauk-U townships, were heard firing both weapons heavy and light last week, raising concerns among residents that fighting could resume.
On May 15, the AA urged the public in Rakhine to avoid areas where junta personnel are active, warning that fighting could break out at any time. A few days later, a military spokesman told a press conference that the Myanmar military was “holding back” in the area to prevent unrest.
AA Commander Twan Mrat Naing took to Twitter in early May and threatened Htin Latt Oo, the head of the Myanmar Army’s Western Regional Command, for allegedly undermining peace in Rakhine State.
The army also imposed a curfew in Paletwa township in southern Chin state across the border from Rakhine, where a clash broke out with AAs on May 26.