11 July 2024

Yangon, Myanmar – Myanmar’s junta chief has made a rare apology after security forces killed the popular abbot of a Buddhist monastery in an incident the military initially blamed on opponents of its coup. 

Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa, 78, was a prominent teacher and author on Buddhism and head of a monastery that had publicly opposed the military’s 2021 coup that has plunged Myanmar into turmoil.

He was shot dead on June 19 as he travelled by car through central Mandalay region.

Junta-controlled media initially blamed opponents of its coup for the killing but the next day a senior monk who had been at the scene said security forces were responsible. 

His accusation went viral on social media and the junta said it would investigate the incident.

“We are extremely heartbroken for losing Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa,” junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a letter that was read out at the abbot’s monastery on Monday.

“We would like to give our sincere apology for this case,” the letter said.

The car the abbot had been travelling in had no religious markings on it, according to the letter, and had not slowed down at a checkpoint, leading junta troops to open fire.

An investigation would be carried out and the junta would take “action based on the facts.”

The abbot’s funeral would take place on Thursday 

The military has long sought to portray itself as a protector of Buddhist identity, the majority religion in Myanmar.

Since seizing power in 2021 it has arrested and jailed locals and foreigners accused of “harming” Buddhism in its sweeping crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands jailed or killed, according to a local monitoring group.

But the clergy have also been at the forefront of political protests.

Huge demonstrations sparked by fuel price hikes in 2007 were led by monks, and the clergy also mobilised relief efforts after 2008’s devastating Cyclone Nargis and the inaction of a former junta.

Agence France-Presse//Photo : (from L) Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa and Junta chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing : The Irawaddy