People of Burma remain skeptical of political change under the existing President Thein Sein administration that claims itself as a reformist establishment. The reason is that the regime just changes its clothes rather than its authoritarian practices. It has disclose its true nature during the crackdown on the peaceful anti-copper mine protesters including several Buddhist monks last week.

On November 29, 2012, in Monywa, Sagaing Division, riot police brutally run over six protest camps at the Letpaudaung copper mine, arrested an indefinite number of protesters, and injured at least 100, including many with severe burns.

The worst was that the riot police have used inflammable bombs while they raided into the camps where monks peacefully slept at early hours of the full-moon day.  The regime used riot police equipped with harmful weapons, although there was no situation of riot or disorder in those sites where monks recited Mitta Sutra. Actually, the anti-copper mine protesters were just exposing their citizens’ rights that the mine has severely damaged their livelihoods, environments and cultural heritages without sympathy.

The controversial copper mine in Sarlingyi Township in Monywa District is being accused of widespread land confiscations and environmental degradation, including mountain top abolition. The Lapadaungtaung copper mine project is jointly run by the military-owned UMEHL and China’s Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Chinese arms manufacturer NORINCO.

During the protests against the Letpadaung copper-mine, the riot police are responsible for breaching common human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and inhumane treatment that allow running free inflammable bombs into the crowd, as said by witnesses who joined the protest.       That kind of act is more than an ordinary rights abuse. It’s a violation of crime against humanity since nearly a hundred monks have been suffering severe burns all over their bodies.

On 27 November, Six demonstrators in Rangoon – Daw Shan Ma, Naw Ohn Hla, Wai Lu, Ye Lin, Myo Chit and Nyi Nyi – were charged with Criminal Code 505 (b) and Unlawful Assembly Act 18. They were accused defaming the state after they joined a gathering of about 50 people calling for a halt to the Monywa project and urging Chinese joint owner Wanbao to quit the country. In this case, citizens in Rangoon criticize the authorities that the law is made not for people but for the Chinese business and UMEHL.

On 2 December, two more protesters – Moe Thway and Aung Soe – have also been arrested by police at a rally on Shwe-gon-daing road in Rangoon after protesting the crackdown on peaceful protesters, including hundreds of monks, at the Latpadaung Mountain copper mine site, as reported by citizen-journalists on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Notification No. 92/2012 appeared on the president’s office website on 1 December 2012.  The announcement said the President had set up a 30-member “Investigation Commission” chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to look into whether copper mining should be continued and to find out the true situation about the recent containing of protest in Letpadaungtaung Copper Mining Project in Salingyi Township. The investigation commission is allowed to scrutinize in keeping code of criminal procedure and evidence act, summoning witnesses, asking for documents and visiting necessary sites. The investigation report must be submitted to the President by 31 December, 2012.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with monks who were injured in the crackdown. Pic: AP.

However, 2 days after the Notification No. 92/2012 prepared the 30-member commission, president’s office released additional Notification No. 95/2012 on 3 December that the commission has been cut up to 16 members without stating any reasons for the cutback of the body. The closing date for the commission’s report has also been postponed by a month, to 31 January, 2013.

An ugly point in the next notification is trimming down the duties of the commission. In earlier statement on 1 December, the duties of the commission were declared as: to look into whether the copper mine project should be sustained or not; and to look into the true data on the behavior of using power over the protesting mass.

The U-turn in the Presidential Notification No. 95/2012 dated 3 December is the latest contradiction of government statements on the topic of the controversial Monywa copper mine tragedy. So, the 16-member commission just needs to assess the copper mine project, whether it will do good to the state and the people together with social and environmental impacts. The commission has no authority to investigate unlawful crackdown done by the riot police equipped with harmful weapons and inflammable bombs.

But, there is a vigilant voice among the public to look into police cruelty through the copper mine protests whether police used inflammable bombs against protestors. People believe that chemical weapons were used against the unarmed protestors. If evidences of “inflammable bombs” are found, the government must take responsibility for direct violation of international law.

In the public, a comment is spreading that inquiry commissions have been time and again set up in this country. However, the government doesn’t habitually observe how the commissions do their duties and compile practical findings. That means people do not trust the work of such commission.  People believe the commission could face various hardships to meet people’s demands.

In contrast, people are disturbed by the information that the President assigns their charismatic leader Aung San Suu Ky as commission chair. As they distrust the quasi-civilian regime practicing the old repressive conducts upon the citizens by abusing the law, people are afraid that Burma’s Nobel laureate may perhaps be exploited by the inhumane autocrats.