Armed group steals monk's corpse

Agence France-Presse, April 02, 2008

Rangoon, Burma -- AN armed group raided a Buddhist shrine in eastern Burma and stole the corpse of a revered monk whose body had been displayed as a holy relic in a glass coffin, an official said today.

The Buddhist monk Sayadaw Wi Na Ya, who died four years ago, was worshipped like a saint because he was believed to have attained the highest state of enlightenment.

After his death, his body was placed on display at his residence at Thamanya Hill in eastern Karen state.

Buddhists from across Burma and neighbouring Thailand came to pray at his coffin.

But an unidentified armed group stole his corpse late yesterday, without leaving any demands or explanation.

A local official said by telephone that an ethnic rebel group may have taken the body.

"We are still investigating the case. We heard members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Association took it. But they have no right to do so," he said.

The DKBA is allied with the country's ruling junta, and sometimes battles other ethnic Karen rebels as a proxy force for the regime.

"No one knows where they are taking it to and what for," said one resident in the nearby town of Hpaan.

More than 80 per cent of the people in Burma are Buddhist, and many believe that holy men like the monk provide protection to their followers even after death.

The military regime last September waged a deadly crackdown on Buddhist monks in Rangoon, where they led the biggest pro-democracy protests seen in nearly 20 years.

At least 31 people were killed, according to the United Nations, and the violence shocked many of the Buddhist faithful in Burma, who believe monks are untouchable.