Nationalist Monk Joins Chinese Gambling City-Linked BGF Leader's Mass Donation
By The Irrawaddy 10 March 2023
Brigadier General Saw Chit Thu, the leader of Myanmar junta-affiliated Border Guard Force (BGF), who presides over a controversial China-backed gambling city in Myawaddy Township, Karen State, has organized a mass donation ceremony.
The resistance fighter turned businessman had a pagoda called Pyi Tha Lin Aye built in his home village, Kyar Inn, in Hlinebwe Township, Karen State.
A festival was held for nearly two weeks from February 20 until March 5 to mark the consecration of the pagoda.
More than 100 million kyats were spent on the festival, which featured Dhamma talks, funfairs and sporting events. Wirathu, the extremist monk from the Buddhist nationalist Association for Protection of Race and Religion better known as Ma Ba Tha, delivered sermons.
Both Wirathu and Saw Chit Thu last year were awarded the honorary Thiri Pyanchi title by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Residents posted on Facebook that Saw Chit Thu organized a lucky draw with prizes including 11 unlicensed vehicles, 18 motorbikes, expensive phones and cash. Pictures of Buddhist monks jostling with residents for tickets were distributed online and attracted criticism.
Buddhist scholar Sayadaw Min Thone Nya said: “Such acts amount to supporting Saw Chit Thu who is making dirty money and working with the military dictators. Such acts totally deviate from Buddhism.
“It is extremely shameful. Buddha said that society will collapse when humans are not ashamed and do not fear doing bad acts. If even the monks have no sense of shame or fear of doing bad things, they will destroy society.”
Following the fall of Manerplaw, which served as a base for an umbrella group of forces opposed to the military regime in 1995, the leaders of the Karen National Union fled their Manerplaw headquarters and the Karen armed movement splintered into several groups.
One was the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) led by Saw Chit Thu. In 2009 Saw Chit Thu’s forces were transformed into a BGF under the command of Myanmar’s military.
Saw Chit Thu was appointed general secretary of the BGF’s central advisory and command board and given the rank of colonel. But he refers to himself as a brigadier general, the rank he held in the DKBA.
A few months before the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military pressured BGF leaders into resigning over the controversial Shwe Kokko new city gambling project. Ninety officers, including 13 majors who commanded BGF battalions, submitted resignations in solidarity with Saw Chit Thu. They, however, withdrew their resignations following the military’s request for a rethink.
Saw Chit Thu retained his position, and the Chinese-backed project has grown over the past two years.
The Shwe Kokko project is a collaboration between the Chit Lin Myaing Co run by Saw Chit Thu’s BGF and the Hong Kong-registered Yatai International Holding Group.
The project has become notorious in Southeast Asia for involvement with Chinese criminal gangs, human trafficking, labor exploitation, online scams, gambling and other illegal activities while providing the main source of income for Saw Chit Thu and his forces.
Chinese investor Shi Zhijiang was arrested in Bangkok last August. He is the subject of an international arrest warrant for allegedly running an online casino and has controversial mega projects and gambling ventures in Cambodia and Shwe Kokko. The BGF said the project is running as normal despite the arrest.