Myanmar State Counselor Makes Donation at Religious Event Organized by Pa-O Militias

By San Yamin Aung 20 November 2019

KYAUK TALONE GYI, southern Shan State—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday attended a ceremony to enshrine Buddha relics at a pagoda in an area controlled by an ethnic Pa-O militia in southern Shan State, at the invitation of the group’s leader.

Some 528 Buddhist monks joined the donation ceremony at Mahavamsa Bodh Gaya Maha Bodhi Pagoda, which is now under construction in Kyauk Talone Gyi subtownship in Taunggyi District, on Wednesday morning. Kyauk Talone Gyi is the hometown of Pa-O National Organization (PNO) Patron U Aung Kham Hti.

Once counted among Myanmar’s many ethnic armed groups, the PNO signed a ceasefire with the military regime in 1991, transforming itself into a political party with a militia that manages security in the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone. Its leaders remain close to the military and the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

Organized by the PNO, the ceremony attracted tens of thousands of ethnic people, mostly Pa-O. Union ministers, including military-appointed Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe and Border Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Ye Aung, attended the event along with the State Counselor.

An ethnic Pa-O woman said she attended the event because it was a Pa-O ceremony.

“I feel glad, as Amay Daw Aung San Suu Kyi also came to our ceremony,” she said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi donated 1 million kyats to the pagoda construction on Wednesday. Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who has close ties with U Aung Kham Hti, was among the initial funders of the pagoda’s foundation, donating the same amount—1 million kyats. Among the other original funders, the military itself contributed 5.2 million kyats on behalf of service personnel and their families. The Ministry of Border Affairs donated 20 million kyats. U Aung Kham Hti personally donated 30 million kyats, while the PNO and its political and militia organizations contributed a total of 155 million kyats.

U Aung Kham Hti hosted a lunch in honor of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at his residence in Kyauk Talone Gyi.

Lower House lawmaker Ko Khun Aung Kyaw, the son of U Aung Kham Hti, told The Irrawaddy after the ceremony that the PNO invited the State Counselor as she had never been to the Pa-O region before, and also to demonstrate the Pa-O’s genuine goodwill toward the state.

“We were not expecting the State Counselor to attend when we invited her. It is a great pleasure for our region, as well as for our ethnicity, to receive her,” he added.

The PNO earlier invited the State Counselor to religious donation ceremonies in the region in 2017 and 2018, but she didn’t make it on either occasion.

Ko Khun Aung Kyaw said his father wants to build a temple for the Pa-O people that is similar to the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Landscaping and construction of the Mahavamsa Bodh Gaya Maha Bodhi Pagoda began in May 2017.