(Bloomberg) -- Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing made a rare apology to a prominent Buddhist monastery after its abbot was killed by security forces last week, a development that could trigger widespread protests among the monks who traditionally support the military. 

Minister of Religious Affairs and Culture Tin Oo Lwin read out the junta chief’s letter in a live broadcast on the Win Neinmitayon Monastery’s Facebook page late Monday. Investigations are underway and “action will be seriously taken,” he said. 

The apology is an attempt to defuse tensions as some in the Buddhist clergy are planning protests after the 78-year-old chief monk was shot dead by security forces last week in a village in central Myanmar. Junta-controlled media initially blamed resistance groups for the abbot’s death but a senior monk traveling with him said the regime’s security officials were responsible. 

Protests by the monks have started on Monday in two townships in Sagaing region — a key monastic center near Mandalay. The monks hold considerable sway in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and have tended to back the junta over the pro-democracy groups. 

Min Aung Hlaing donated a fleet of luxury cars this month to members of the nation’s highest Buddhist authority to help them perform their religious duties, state media reported.  

Sitagu Sayadaw, a senior monk with close ties with the junta chief, told mourners at the Win Neinmitayon Monastery to “forgive and forget” the killing. 

“If the government and monks can’t work together, our country will have lots of trouble,” he said in remarks broadcast on Facebook. 

Sayadaw Bhaddanta Munindabhivamsa, the monk killed by junta troops, was a former member of Buddhist leadership council, but he has publicly condemned the military coup that toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in 2021. He was the head of one of Myanmar’s biggest monasteries, and his funeral will be held on Thursday. 

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.