Numerous protesters including several Buddhist monks were seriously injured in a violent crackdown by police in the early hours of 29 November. The riot police used inflammable bombs, tear-gas and water cannon to break up a protest at the gate of the Chinese Wanbao Company’s Lapadaungtaung copper mine project near Monywa in Upper Burma.
The brutal raid on protesters’ camps occurred hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s planned trip to Monywa, where she made an address to local supporters.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi criticized the aggressive attack on protesters, who say ‘no’ to a copper mine that damaged their environment and cultural sites. Suu Kyi said the public needs a clarification on the violent behavior that injured nearly a hundred people, including 50 Buddhist monks, according to media reports. More than 10,000 people attended to Suu Kyi’s address.
November 29 was the full-moon Day of the eighth month in the Burmese calendar. According to the country’s tradition, it’s also a sacred day of offering woven kahtina robse to the Lord Buddha. On such a celebrated day, Burmese riot-police brutally obliterated the protest camps put up by Buddhist monks who are opposing the copper mine joint-venture in Monywa. The protest was set in motion last February.
The copper mine project is a joint-venture between the Burma Army backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and China’s Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Chinese arms manufacturer NORINCO.
Eight demonstrators in Rangoon were charged on 27 November with 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, according to Agence France-Presse.
Two protest leaders, 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, as reported by citizen-journalists on Facebook at the weekend.
The controversial mine in Sarlingyi Township is being accused of widespread land confiscations and environmental degradation, including mountain top elimination. The Lapadaungtaung copper mine project is jointly run by the military-owned UMEHL and China’s Wenbao Company.
On 24 November 2012, China Daily covered a story concerning controversial copper mine by the Xinhua News. It says: “Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Wai Lwin gave the warning at the 5th session of the House of Representatives (Lower House) on Friday when making clarification with regard to an important proposal submitted by Pale constituency MP Daw Khin San Hlaing to the President to form an independent state-level commission to probe into the case of Monywa copper mining project faced with interruption if it should be allowed to go on or not.”
The news also said that Monywa copper mining project comprising Latpadaung and Kyayzintaung projects in Sagaing Division has been undertaken by the UMEHL, China’s Wanbao Mining Ltd and Yang Tze Copper Ltd under the approval of the Ministry of Mines in March 2010 with 60-year grant land in September 2012 after a Canadian company, the Ivanhoe, pulled out two years ago.
According to the Xinhua News, Wai Lwin clarified that the UMEHL was established with the contribution of veterans, families of fallen soldiers and disabled soldiers, and the profits are used for their welfare. He further revealed that works were managed corresponding to the international environmental standard and gained three internationally-recognized certificates for the project. He also revealed that the House of Nationalities’ Natural Resources Committee and the Myanmar Human Rights Commission have inspected the project.
However, 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.
An inquiry into police cruelty through the copper mine protests must be included 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 be faced trial in direct violation of international law.
Human Rights Watch said Suu Kyi should also press the government to hold accountable those who used excessive force.
“The government should recognize that local voices are essential to an open society, whether in criticizing new laws or the state’s use of natural resources,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“This assault against peaceful protesters raises serious concerns about the failure of the government to protect rights when state or military interests are at stake,” he added.