The Ministry of Religious Affairs says an early morning raid on a Yangon monastery was necessary to regain control of the disputed property from a well-known abbot and his followers.

The abbot, the Venerable Penang Sayardaw, is believed to be overseas.

The raid on the Mahasantisukhua monastery in Tarmwe Township began about 1am on June 11 and involved hundreds of uniformed and plain-clothes police and monks, witnesses said.

They said scores of monks and other followers of the abbot were taken away in buses after the raid.

The raid follows a long-running dispute over the ownership of the property between the abbot and the State Central Sangha Organisation, the supreme body representing Buddhist monks in Myanmar.

The deputy director-general of the ministry, U Zar Ni Win, told a news conference in Yangon later on June 11 that the claim of ownership to the monastery by the Penang Sayardaw and his followers was in violation of the code of conduct to which monks are required to adhere.

“To preserve the dignity of the Penang Sayardaw, who does not own the land or the buildings on it, we have allowed him to live at the monastery for more than a year as a visiting monk,” U Zar Ni Win said.

He said that during that time the Penang Sayardaw had been arranging two and five-year courses in Vipassana meditation and computer training.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs is reported to have served an eviction notice on the Penang Sayardaw and his followers to vacate the monastery by May 31.

The Penang Sayardaw, who is also known as U Pannavamsa, is believed to have left for Japan on June 5 on a lecture tour.