Monks were reportedly among a group of civilians used as human shields by the Burmese army during an operation to deliver supplies to frontline troops in Shan state on Sunday last week.
The monks were forced to accompany soldiers in the volatile Kehsi Mensi district of Shan state in eastern Burma, which has seen heavy fighting in recent months as government forces battle the opposition Shan State Army (SSA). They were among a large group of men and women taken from Wanhpein village, according to a local there.
“About 35 men and women, as well as monks from the monastery in Wanhpein, were taken along by the army – there are around 40 monks and novices residing at the monastery and only seven monks, a lay-disciple and the abbot were left,” said the local.
“The army also took a truck that belonged to the monastery and one of the monks had to drive it. Wanhpein is about 14 miles distance from Kehsi Mensi and it takes about five to six hours to walk.”
The use of human shields by Burmese troops is regularly reportedly in the country’s border regions, where the army is fighting a number of wars against ethnic armies who depend to an extent on cooperation and support from locals.
But the inclusion of monks is rare: the monastic community is highly revered in Burma, although the Buddhist government is known to spare them little favour: 222 are in prison, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma, while a number were famously shot dead in the September 2007 uprising.
Major Sai La, spokesperson of the SSA’s political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party, criticised the Burmese army for their treatment of civilians and monks.
“We, the SSA, see taking hostage of villagers and monks to use them [as human shields] as a violation of human rights. If the [Burmese army] are real soldiers, then they should act like real soldiers and not take villagers as human shields – this is very inappropriate,” said Sai La.
“If the villagers had not been with them, we would have fought them to death.”
DVB also learnt that around 20 villagers in Mongkawng village, seven miles from Kehsi Mensi, were forced to accompany a Burmese army convoy yesterday morning.