Myanmar junta chief issues rare apology for shooting death of Buddhist abbot

But Min Aung Hlaing said troops fired on his car for ‘security reasons’ when it failed to stop.
By RFA Burmese
2024.06.24
Myanmar junta chief issues rare apology for shooting death of Buddhist abbot Officials of the junta’s Bago region government read an apology letter from junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, June 24, 2024 at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery.
Eleven Media Group via Facebook

Myanmar’s junta chief issued a rare apology on Monday for last week’s fatal shooting of a senior Buddhist monk, but claimed that military troops fired on his vehicle for “security reasons.”

Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa, the 77-year-old abbot of Win Neinmitayon Monastery in Bago region, was shot dead in his car as it left an airport in central Mandalay region on the morning of June 19.

Television broadcaster MRTV announced initially that the abbot’s car was caught in a firefight between junta troops and guerillas from the rebel People’s Defense Forces, or PDF, a grassroots militia formed by citizens opposed to the military’s February 2021 coup d’etat.

But on Monday, junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing published a letter of apology for the shooting, which Tin Oo Lwin, the junta’s minister of religion and culture, read to monks presiding over the abbot’s funeral.

Officials of the junta’s Bago region government read an apology letter from junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, June 24, 2024 at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery. (Eleven Media Group via Facebook)
Officials of the junta’s Bago region government read an apology letter from junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, June 24, 2024 at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery. (Eleven Media Group via Facebook)

In the letter, Min Aung Hlaing expressed “deep regret” for Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa’s death, but noted that the shooting occurred “for security reasons” because the abbot was “in a civilian vehicle with closed windows” that failed to stop at a checkpoint.

A senior monk presiding over the funeral on Monday said during the ceremony that he would never forget the incident.

"We know they apologized, and we feel a mixture of sadness and heartbreak,” he said. “It's something that will be impossible to forget."

While the junta initially claimed that the PDF was responsible for Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa’s death, on June 20, another monk involved in the incident named Baddanta Gunikabhivamsa – the abbot of the Kanthonsint Pariyatti School in Yangon – said that it was military troops who fired on the car.

Officials of the junta’s Bago region government read an apology letter from junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, June 24, 2024 at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery. (Eleven Media Group via Facebook)
Officials of the junta’s Bago region government read an apology letter from junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, June 24, 2024 at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery. (Eleven Media Group via Facebook)

The following day, junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun issued a “clarification,” admitting that the military was responsible and vowing to investigate the incident.

The spokesperson said junta troops providing security in Bago “are facing many difficulties” and that “it is difficult to verify immediately whether they [passengers] are enemies or civilians.”

Several Buddhist institutions have issued statements expressing their condolences over the death of Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa, while a monk association in Mandalay condemned the shooting, labeling it an act of terrorism.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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