updated 4/2/2008 6:24:52 PM ET 2008-04-02T22:24:52

A group of armed men on Wednesday stole the body of one of Myanmar's most revered Buddhist monks, whose corpse has been preserved in a glass coffin since he died more than four years ago.

Officials said the coffin containing the body of Sayadaw Bhaddanta Vinaya, better known as Thamanya Sayadaw, was stolen from the monastery in eastern Myanmar where he had preached.

The officials, who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to release information, said at least nine armed men wearing camouflage clothing carried out the theft. They said they had no idea who they were or why they took the body.

Thamanya Sayadaw — the abbot of Thamanya mountain — was a highly revered monk who attracted thousands of followers to his temple daily before he died in November 2003 at the age of 93.

Among those who journeyed to pay homage to him at his mountain retreat 100 miles east of Yangon was pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She, like most people in Myanmar, is Buddhist.

Suu Kyi visited Thamanya mountain in 1995 to pay homage to the monk after she was freed from six years of house arrest and last visited him in June 2002 after being released from 19 months of detention. She was later detained again.

The military government bestowed several honors on Thamanya Sayadaw, but he avoided identification with it, instead promoting his religion and development in the community where he preached.

Many people continued to pay their respects to his remains after his death. Bodies of revered monks are sometimes preserved and displayed in glass coffins for worship.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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