MANDALAY– Ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State condemned the killing of a Buddhist abbot in Kyaukme Township, urging the government to investigate the case and identify the culprits, on Sunday.
The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) both issued statements regarding the death of U Kalayna Wuntha, the head abbot of Shwe Kyin Monastery in Kyaukme Township, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen on Oct. 5.
“We are shocked by the act of the gunmen who fired several shots at the Shwe Kyin Sayardaw till he died and we strongly condemn it,” said the statement issued on Sunday by the TNLA.
“We urge the government and the local authorities to investigate and find out the culprit as soon as possible and to take legal action against them,” said the TNLA statement.
In a separate statement issued by the RCSS faction of the Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), the group said it will join hands with locals to investigate the incident which threatens their policy of protecting race, religion, the Buddha’s mission and the country.
“RCSS/SSA is strongly against any violence which is happening in Shan State and we will join hands with the local community to find out the culprit who is behind the death of the Shwe Kyin Sayardaw,” said RCSS/SSA’s statement released on Oct. 7.
Since Kyaukme is an area where both the TNLA and the RCSS/SSA are operating, locals believe the gunmen to be from one of the ethnic armed groups.
U Kalayana Wuntha (46), widely known as Shwe Kyin Sayardaw, was a leading Buddhist abbot who formed a charity group called Namtkhon in Kyaukme Township.
According to locals, the abbot always supported and accommodated displaced those who had to flee their homes during outbreaks of violent conflict in the area. He also stood strongly against battles in Shan State and once participated in an anti-war protest which was held in Kyaukme, as well as joining in the condemnation of the TNLA’s abducting of Nang Mo Hom, a Shan woman of Namhkam Township.
A rumor spreading widely around Kyaukme is that members of the RCSS/SSA had met with the abbot, requesting him to act as a negotiator between the RCSS/SSA and the Shan State Progress Party faction of the Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), and when the abbot refused, a fight broke out between them.
However, The Irrawaddy was unable to confirm the identity of the gunmen as of Monday afternoon.
When The Irrawaddy contacted the police station in Kyaukme Township which is dealing with the incident, an on-duty officer confirmed the shooting but did not give further information about the gunmen.
“The sayardaw was shot at least seven times on his body and died due to the injuries. We only know there were two gunmen who came on two motorcycles and one [motorcycle] was left at the monastery. We cannot provide details yet as the case is still under investigation,” said the officer at Kyaukme Police Station.
The Shan State Joint Action Committee and the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) also issued statements on Sunday condemning the shooting of the abbot, declaring the incident a breach of the rule of law and a threat to peace and stability in the region.