A Buddhist monk is among six men to have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the killing of a Buddhist abbot in Karen State last year. They were handed the sentences on 18 May by a tribunal formed by representatives of several Karen armed groups.
The six accused – including five members of the Karen Peace Council (KPC) – were found guilty of the 18 October killing of the Sayadaw [Buddhist abbot] Kuthala. The abbot belonged to a monastery in Hlaingbwe Township’s Mae La village in Karen State, and was reportedly attacked because of his opposition to illegal logging operations around the village.
The monk’s death sparked an outcry amongst the public, prompting the Karen armed groups, in a historic move, to establish a joint tribunal to investigate the matter and punish the perpetrators.
The KNU’s Internal and Religious Affairs coordinator Saw Ah Toe told DVB by phone on Tuesday that the accused were convicted of murder under Article 190 of the KNU’s Kawthoolei penal code.
Four of the accused – Saw Kyaw Di, Saw Kyaw Htay, Saw Pha Taw and Saw Kyi Aye – were sentenced to between of seven and ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour.
“Two of the defendants, the KPC’s Saw Tah Wah and the monk Buddhawunsa, also known as the ‘Peace Monk’, are still at large and were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour,” said Saw Ah Toe.
The nine-person tribunal, formed in April of this year, consisted of three representatives of the Karen National Union (KNU), two from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), two from the Karen Border Guard Forces (BGF) and two from the KPC, also known as the KNU/KNLA [Karen National Liberation Army] Peace Council.
He said the prisoners will serve their terms in a KNU prison within KNU territory.
KPC spokesperson Saw Min Wai said the defendants have 40 days to appeal the verdict.
“The verdict was decided by senior officials in the tribunal. Defendants can decide whether to appeal,” he said.