YANGON/RANGOON, Myanmar/Burma (AP) — Burma’s government formally apologized Saturday to the country’s Buddhist monks for its recent crackdown on protesters at a copper mine that injured more than 100 of their monastic colleagues.
President’s Office Minister Hla Tun led other officials in apologizing to senior and injured monks in the central city of Mandalay.
Police used water cannons, tear gas and smoke bombs on Nov. 29 to break up an 11-day occupation of the Letpadaung mine project in northwestern Burma, a joint venture between a military-owned holding company and a Chinese company. Protesters want the project halted, saying it is causing environmental, social and health problems.
The monks had been holding protests to demand an apology for the violence, with hundreds marching peacefully this past Wednesday in Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s two biggest cities, along with Monywa, the town closest to the mine, and at least six other towns.
Shin Wirathu, one of the monks leading the protests, said Saturday’s action satisfied their demands for a formal apology. The monks had rejected previous apologies by officials as inadequate and directed at the wrong people. Officials in attendance Saturday included Health Minister Pe Thet Khin, Police Chief Kyaw Kyaw Tun and Sagaing Region Chief minister Thar Aye.
“We are now satisfied as they made the apology publicly and legally,” said Shin Wirathu “And it’s pleasing that the ones who had the main responsibility for the crackdown apologized to the injured monks. We acknowledge it as a historic day but it’s a matter of forgive, not forget.”
He added that the officials also promised not to let anything like the crackdown happen again.
According to Shin Wirathu, 34 injured monks and 3 lay people are still at hospitals in Mandalay, and one person was sent to Thailand for medical treatment.
Most of those hurt suffered burns that protesters said were caused by incendiary devices hurled by police.
The crackdown was reminiscent of those the country faced under military rule, which formally ended when an elected government took power last year. It stirred particular anger because of the violence against monks, who are held in high regard in this reverent Buddhist country.
The heavy-handed action indicated the government is still unsure where to draw the line on public protests, even though elected President Thein Sein’s government has been hailed for releasing hundreds of political prisoners and for implementing laws allowing public demonstrations and labor strikes.