A military plane crashed in central Myanmar’s Mandalay region Thursday, killing at least 12 people on board, including a prominent senior Buddhist monk, according to state media.
The plane was carrying six military personnel, as well as two monks and six devotees, from the capital Naypyidaw to Pyin Oo Lwin for a ceremony to make the foundation of a new monastery, the official Myawaddy TV reported. A boy and a member of the military survived the crash, the report said, although unconfirmed accounts said the soldier later died in hospital.
The senior monk who died in the crash was Bhatanda Kavisara, the abbot of Zay Kone Monastery in Pyinmana, a town outside of Naypyidaw, who was believed to be in his 90s and had hosted junta leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing for a visit on Feb. 2, a day after the military orchestrated a takeover of Myanmar’s democratically elected government.
The coup prompted a nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement and widespread protests that troops loyal to the junta responded to with violent crackdowns. At least 860 people have been killed in the clashes, and more than 4,800 arrested, charged, or sentenced, according to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma).
Thursday’s crash occurred as the plane, which appeared to be a Beechcraft 1900, encountered rough weather while attempting to land at Pyin Oo Lwin’s Anisakhan airport, Myawaddy TV said. In February 2016, five people were killed when an air force Beechcraft 1900D crashed after taking off from the airport in Naypyidaw.
Amid nationwide turmoil following the coup, the military has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country of 54 million that have led to fierce battles with a plethora of People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias formed to protect residents from troops loyal to the junta.
On Wednesday, around 10 military soldiers were killed and 10 wounded during a firefight in Kani township in central Myanmar’s Sagaing region with the Kani People’s Defense Force (KPDF)—a volunteer militia formed to protect civilians from forces loyal to the junta.
A report by the Irrawaddy online news site cited residents as saying the KPDF used landmines to ambush five military vehicles carrying some 70 troops on the Monywa-Kalewa highway as they returned to a camp in Yargyi village after looting the nearby abandoned village of Thalin.
The number of military casualties could not be independently confirmed, and residents told the Irrawaddy that no members of the militia were killed or injured in the clash.
Around 5,000 residents from 10 villages in the area have now fled their homes, sources said.
On Wednesday, aid workers told RFA that an estimated 230,000 people have been forced to flee their homes through Myanmar as the result of fighting between the military and local militias, as well as territorial grabs between ethnic armies looking to capitalize on the chaos.
The United Nations in Myanmar voiced concern Tuesday about what it called “the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Kayah state and other areas in southeastern Myanmar.”
In a statement, the U.N. stressed the urgent need for food, water, shelter, fuel, and access to healthcare for people fleeing the fighting, saying that the aid it has distributed is insufficient—particularly for those in remote locations, where insecurity, travel restrictions, and poor road conditions are delaying the delivery of supplies.
Myanmar’s the Dhamma and Peace group, a watchdog for religious issues, recently called on its Facebook page for pressure on the junta to release at least 18 leading monks from the Masoyein Taikthit Monastery in Mandalay who were beaten and detained troops on June 1 after working to stop violence during anti-coup protests or taking part in the protests themselves.
A monk in Mandalay, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said incident shows that the junta is only paying lip service to religion to legitimize its rule of the country.
“No matter how many pagodas they built, how many titles and awards they presented to the monks, it is just a façade,” he said.
“The monks were beaten and knocked down by troops in cars. They hit the monks after dragging them onto the trucks. … If they have any respect for religion, they must stop all these beatings and killings of monks and laypeople.”
Sayadaw Minthonnya of Myanmar’s Buddhist University, told RFA it is the responsibility of the country’s 500,000 monks and 60,000 nuns to secure the release of more than 5,000 people, including monks, held by the junta.
“These people have been detained and imprisoned for working for Dharma (Good). Shouldn’t we also fight for Dharma?” he asked.
“One of the requirements for the Sangha to stage a boycott is ‘cursing and swearing at monks.’ But now [the junta troops] not only use blasphemy but they also kill. In such a situation, we can stage a united boycott. If the military doesn’t apologize, if they don’t release our Sangha members, we must stop providing religious services to them.”
The military has denied, through state media, any wrongdoing in the June 1 incident.
Observers say there are now three types of monks in Myanmar: those who reject the coup, those who are close to the junta and accept it, and those who are not interested.
An AAPP spokesman said arrests and torture of monks, as seen under successive dictatorships, should never happen in Myanmar.
Deputy Information Minister Zaw Min Tun could not be reached for comment on Thursday and the junta has yet to make an official statement on the status of the detained monks.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.