Virgin Mary Statue Destroyed in Myanmar’s Shan State; Ethnic Kayan Accuse Pa-O Militia

By Lawi Weng 21 January 2020

The Head Committee of Kayan National Unity (HCKNU) has asked the authorities of the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone in southern Shan State to take action against the people who destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary belonging to an ethnic Kayan Catholic community.

The statue of the Virgin Mary, a Catholic icon, near an ethnic Kayan minority community in Pinlaung Township was destroyed by a group of people who shot the statue in the head and destroyed its hand using stones on Jan. 18 or 19, according to local sources.

“In order to avoid religious and ethnic conflict, we have asked [authorities] to take action. This was a violation of religious freedom under the 2008 Constitution and we condemn the action,” the HCKNU said in a statement issued Monday.

Local Kayan people were preparing to hold a religious festival to pay respect to the statue on Jan. 23 and 24 and went to clean the statue on Jan. 17. The statue is located outside a village and local residents say it was destroyed when they were not around. They found that the statue was destroyed late in the evening of Jan. 19.

The HCKNU accused the Pa-O National Army (PNA), an armed group in the area, of involvement in the action.

“[The PNA] may not want us to hold the celebration, so they may have destroyed it,” said HCKNU spokesperson Khun Tin Nu.

The PNA is a Pa-O ethnic armed group that has served as a local militia for the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone since they were transformed into a border guard force in 2009.

PNA Captain Kyaw Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that he did not think PNA members would destroy the statue and denied the HCKNU’s accusation.

“We have troops based in the area but I do not think my troops would act like that,” said Capt. Kyaw Lwin.

He said that he helped the HCKNU to build the statue last year by donating water and money.

The religious statue was built last year despite opposition from local militia members, according to the HCKNU.

The HCKNU said the ethnic Kayan community in Pinlaung does not have the freedom to practice their religion and that local militia have often threatened their rights.

“We are an ethnic minority in this region. We should have the right to protect our religion, but our right has been violated,” said Khun Tin Nu.

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