Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists against a monk’s

Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists against a monk’s

Some 70 people, including several Catholic, Buddhist and Muslim leaders, met today in a hotel in Bandarban, south-east Bangladesh, in order to find ways to get back land grabbed by a radical Buddhist monk, Bhante[*] Ucha Hla, 62.
Over the past 12 years, he has been able to seize about a hundred acres from 24 people. His victims include the Catholic Church, which runs two homes for needy children in the area concerned.

Fr Jerome D’Rozario, secretary of the land commission of the Archdiocese of Chattogram (ex Chittagong),said“In 1971 and 1972 the Church purchased five acres from the monk's parents,” Fr Jerome explained. “We hold all the legal documents to prove it. We continue to pay taxes to the government every year. We decided to participate in the meeting to speak out against the monk who seized the land of others.”

The land owned by the archdiocese is used to grow “the rice needed to feed the children hosted in two hostels,” said Fr Jerome. “Some 300 children receive free education. After the loss of the land, we find it hard to keep the facility going. We want the government to speed up legal action against the monk and have the land returned.”

Although Bangladesh is 90 per cent Muslim, Bandarban is an area with a Buddhist majority. Participants at today’s meeting complain that Bhante Ucha Hla is using religion and his position to fraudulently appropriate assets owned by non-Buddhists, who are too weak to protect their rights.

According to local sources, the monk has ties with Myanmar and uses trusted criminals to carry out seizures.

Dilip Barua, a Buddhist, is the secretary of the Barua Welfare Society, an NGO that defends the rights of tribal Barua Buddhists.

"We are surprised that a Buddhist monk is stealing other people's property,” he said. “The Bhante is an influential person and is taking advantage [of his role] in a negative way. He wears religious clothes and [seems] a person worthy of respect. We can't quarrel with him."

Nurul Alam is a Muslim merchant. Twenty years ago, he bought land, “but Bhante Ucha Hla and his men grabbed it, hoisted a Buddhist flag and put up signposts of a Buddhist temple. He is turning the issue into a religious affair so that no one can reclaim their properties."