It is wholly inappropriate for Buddhist monks to participate in militia training, said a spokesman for the Shan Ethnic Affairs Organisation (SEAO), speaking to DVB.
His response came after a controversial photograph was published showing ethnic Red Shan monks receiving firearms training by men in military garb, at least one of whom was wearing an insignia of the Burmese army’s Northern Regional Military Command.
The monks in question have been widely criticised by Buddhist groups across Burma and abroad, with many commentators labelling them a “disgrace to their religion”.
SEAO deputy-chair Sai Sang Wai confirmed that the Northern Regional Military Command had been providing militia training to local villagers in Kachin State, including members of the Shan community, for about two years, apparently to protect themselves from alleged forced recruitment drives by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) which is still at conflict with the central Burmese government.
But Sai Sang Wai also sought to downplay the incident, saying that the monks in the picture appear to be young “temporary” monks – a common practice in Southeast Asia where laymen can enter the monkhood for a short period in order to gain good karma.
“It was absolutely not military training for ordained monks,” he said. “I assume they were just novices – temporary monks – and they are not from Talawgyi.”
Talawgyi is a small Red Shan village near state capital Myitkyina where the Burmese armed forces have conducted several firearms training exercises in the past.
Sai San Wai said he and his group will be discussing the matter with local Buddhist monasteries to ensure such a scene is not repeated.
He added that forced recruitment and extortion by the KIA have been significantly reduced in the village since the militia training began. He noted that the SEAO is considering the formation of an official militia unit in the Red Shan village and that he expected numbers of voluntary militiamen to increase if the KIA persisted with their forced recruitment campaign.