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Buddhist monk leading deadly pro-junta militias in Myanmar’s Sagaing region — Radio Free Asia read full article at

An ultranationalist Buddhist monk is main the cost towards Myanmar’s armed insurrection in Sagaing area for the navy regime, establishing a community of pro-junta militias utilizing a mixture of violent coercion and fear-mongering.

Whilst you received’t discover him on any record of sanctions concentrating on the junta and its cronies for his or her repression of the nation’s opposition, Warthawa is well-known in Sagaing, the place the navy has confronted among the strongest resistance to its rule since its February 2021 coup.

The strict-looking 40-year-old monk with broad shoulders and wide-set eyes made a reputation for himself in Sagaing’s Kanbalu township, the place he beforehand served because the abbot of a temple within the Muslim-majority village of Hmaw Taw – a tract the place solely 10% of the five hundred households observe Myanmar’s nationwide faith of Buddhism.

He later turned a former chief, or “sayadaw,” of the nation’s now-defunct Ma Ba Tha community of extremists, who residents of the area advised Radio Free Asia stoked fears of an assault on Buddhism to achieve followers.

“These monks made people delusional through the use of religion, but they are evil monks,” mentioned a resident of neighboring Taze township, who spoke on situation of anonymity, citing worry of reprisal.

Regardless of a ban of the Ma Ba Tha below Myanmar’s former Nationwide League for Democracy authorities, sources in Sagaing say that since August 2021, Warthawa has used the help of the navy regime to push his nationalist agenda. He’s additionally helped type “Pyu Saw Htee” militias that help the junta in its offensive towards the area’s Individuals’s Protection Pressure paramilitary teams and armed ethnic teams.

“After the military coup, [Warthawa] supported the military and the USDP,” the Taze resident mentioned, referring to the pro-military Union Solidarity and Growth Celebration.

He mentioned that the monk and his followers have made the Pyu Noticed Htee “much stronger,” prompting a current rash of revenge killings of civilians with suspected hyperlinks to the PDF in response to assaults on the navy.

A PDF member in Kanbalu who additionally declined to be named advised RFA that Warthawa “uses religion as his weapon” to show the largely uneducated inhabitants of rural Sagaing towards the armed resistance.

“He deludes the people, telling them that our country will become part of [neighboring] India [if they do not fight],” he mentioned.

“He first built the Pyu Saw Htee forces. Then, when they became strong, even the NLD supporters dared not oppose them,” he mentioned. “Some of them fled from their villages. Those who remain are recruited by force. One person must join their forces from each household and then these groups serve as the village defense.”

Increasing militia community

Sources say Warthawa has seen important recruiting success in Kanbalu and Taze, in addition to the township of Kyunhla – three areas the place there’s already sturdy help amongst villagers for the navy and its political celebration, the USDP. 

However stories point out he’s additionally working to develop the community all through Sagaing, the place a minimum of 77 pro-junta militia teams are at the moment working, based on a confidential report by the Northwest Army Command, leaked to social media in March 2022.

That very same month, a video went viral on social media, purportedly exhibiting members of the Ma Ba Tha on a “tour” of a number of pro-junta villages in Sagaing in help of forming Pyu Noticed Htee models. The video appeared to point out the monks serving to to coach individuals and delivering Buddhist sermons.

In a single clip, Warthawa and two different Ma Ba Tha sayadaws Wira Raza and Pandita look like holding weapons of their fingers and telling residents that the PDF fighters have been killing individuals and setting hearth to villages. 

Sources advised RFA on the time that the footage was filmed on Feb. 27 on the Yadanar Kan Myint Htei Monastery throughout a Pyu Noticed Htee coaching camp commencement ceremony in Taze township’s Kabe village. They confirmed that pro-junta monks had been “carrying guns” and “taking part in some of the fighting” within the area.

On this undated picture, the monk Warthawa attends a ceremony marking the supply of navy uniforms and tools from the junta to a pro-junta Pyu Noticed Htee militia. Credit score: Citizen journalist

‘They call us bald-heads’

A newer video, filmed at a monastery in western Kanbalu’s Kyun Lel village and considered by RFA, confirmed members of a Pyu Noticed Htee group telling residents that they need to take up arms as a part of an effort to “build peace” and defend the realm from PDF fighters who’re “insulting and destroying our country, our people, and our religion.”

“They kill their own people just because they hold different views. They call monks venerable when they need us, but when they don’t like us, they call us bald-heads,” says one monk-turned-militia member. “The PDF is a group of inhumane people with an animal mindset.”

“Therefore, you, my comrades, are taking up arms to defend your village, your region and your country. Isn’t that so?”

Native media outlet Myanmar Now reported that in October, Warthawa led a bunch of monks and gunmen to Kanbalu’s Ngar Toet village, the place they ordered residents of the tract’s 250 households into the native monastery earlier than one of many armed males fired his weapon into air and warned them they might be shot in the event that they tried to go away.

Warthawa oversaw the number of 150 males to attend a two-week coaching to organize them for becoming a member of the Pyu Noticed Htee, held on the identical monastery. Almost all who have been chosen went to the coaching “by force,” the report mentioned, quoting one resident whose identify was amongst these known as.

The resident fled the village together with his household and went into hiding, however Myanmar Now mentioned junta troops killed one one that tried to run away – a former marketing campaign organizer for the ousted NLD – and recaptured one other, whose situation is at the moment unknown.

Warthawa has additionally used the navy to construct up his Pyu Noticed Htee community by providing incentives to potential recruits. Myanmar Now mentioned the junta offered Warthawa with almost U.S.$2,000 in money earmarked for catastrophe aid, native improvement, and monasteries to purchase meals for Pyu Noticed Htee members in Kanbalu and Taze in October. Villagers accustomed to the militias within the townships mentioned members are supplied with free uniforms and paid U.S.$80 month-to-month, whereas leaders obtain a wage of U.S.$100.

Different residents advised RFA that there are at the moment round 400 members of the Pyu Noticed Htee in Taze, all of whom have been outfitted with weapons issued to them by the junta’s Northwest Army Command primarily based in Monywa, Sagaing’s largest metropolis.

‘No major sins’

Whereas Warthawa initially established the Pyu Noticed Htee teams in western Kanbalu with the vow that they might solely be used for “village protection,” sources advised RFA that he had since ordered them to hitch navy columns all through the township.

Within the almost two years for the reason that coup, Pyu Noticed Htee teams preventing alongside the navy in Taze have arrested or killed a minimum of 77 civilians, burned down 83 villages, and compelled greater than 16,000 individuals to flee their houses, the residents mentioned.

In November and December alone, the Pyu Noticed Htee teams below Warthawa’s command killed 30 civilians and torched greater than 1,100 homes in 21 villages within the three townships, they mentioned.

In an interview with Myanmar in June, Warthawa defended his assaults on villages he claims to be aligned with the armed resistance motion, claiming that he was performing within the spirit of “angry benevolence.”

When requested about his function within the battle, a former Ma Ba Tha monk named Pauk Ko Taw advised RFA that Warthawa’s actions are “righteous” and that he “doesn’t support killing people.”

“He is just working as a monk for building peace in Sagaing’s Kanbalu township, that’s why he organized [the groups] for peace making,” he mentioned. “We Buddhist monks need to organize people to stay peaceful and united and preach harmony to our ethnic groups. Warthawa has not committed any major sins … in Buddhism.”

‘Training killers’

However a Sagaing-based monk characterised Warthawa’s actions as “far from acceptable” for a member of the clergy.

Junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing “abuses his power, torturing and killing the people and burning their villages through military might,” mentioned the monk, who requested anonymity.

“Since Warthawa is training such killers in the Pyu Saw Htee, what he is doing is not in accordance with the codes of Buddhist monks in any way.”

A monk in Mandalay agreed that Warthawa is abusing his function as a monk to additional his personal agenda. “We Buddhist monks are prohibited from even using harsh words against others or cursing, let alone killing or taking up arms,” the monk mentioned.

“Monks are the object of veneration and worship for the people and we have to preserve morality as the model for the people. Taking up arms like he has is completely wrong and such monks can no longer be considered followers of Buddhism.”

The monk advised RFA that it’s the duty of the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, which oversees the nation’s Buddhist clergy, to self-discipline such wrongdoings, however mentioned that on this case, “they are turning a blind eye.”

A number of makes an attempt by RFA to contact Warthawa for this report went unanswered, as did inquiries made to the Yangon-based State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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