Can Suu Kyi appease villagers on copper mine question?
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Can Suu Kyi appease villagers on copper mine question?

After the ‘Commission on Let-pa-daung Copper-mine Project’ recommended that the project should go ahead, several annoyed local villagers expressed dissatisfaction and complained to the commission’s chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi on a conclusion that sided with the military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL). Burma Nobel laureate and Nobel laureate Suu Kyi on Thursday visited villages in the Mon-ywa district of central Burma where locals may have to be relocated to make way for work on the copper mine.

Although the villagers had regarded Suu Kyi as a people’s advocate, the situation changed unexpectedly on Tuesday from support to hostility. The villagers’ want work at the copper mine to end unconditionally, and are not interested in being compensated to relocate.

Suu Kyi “may have her own good intentions, but she has failed to listen to the sentiments of the villagers,” said veteran journalist Win Tin, 86, a co-founder of her party, according to AP News.

“Money cannot always appease the people, because sometimes it is their pride and love for their hometown that will prevail over money,” Win Tin said.

Meanwhile, a prominent member of the 88 Generation democracy movement cautioned that inhabitants around the Let-pan-daung copper mine should not lose sight of greater national goals, despite disagreements they have with the commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We all are nervous as conflict might take place among the citizens before we see any benefits from the project,” he told RFA’s Burmese Service.

“The Let-pa-daung dilemma is a challenge. We must vigilant to change this challenge into a chance as we also need to practice problem-solving technique through dialogues so as to reach an agreement even though we’ve different opinions,” Min Ko Naing said.


Aung San Suu Kyi talks to journalists during a press briefing before leaving a hotel in Monywa, Burma. (AP Photo)

Numerous protesters, including several Buddhist monks, were injured by riot police in the early hours of 29 November, 2012. The riot police used tear-gas, inflammable bombs and water cannon at the Chinese Wanbao Company holding.

Local people and monks who took part in the protest were forced out of camps near the copper mine project. The brutal raid on protesters’ camps occurred hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s planned trip to Monywa in late November, a busiess town in Upper Burma, where she was likely to address to the local supporters.

During the protests at the Letpadaung copper mine, the police in Burma are responsible for inflicting widespread human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and inhumane treatment that span from water cannons, tear gas, and fire hoses to unleashing “fire bombs” into the crowd.

The victims’ utmost fury was emerged due to negligence of inquiry upon the culprits or commanders who hide behind the scene of the crackdown. The majority of those injured are burn victims with some needing emergency surgery due to the degree and scope of the burns. Usage of any form of incendiary device or bomb is an extreme form of crowd control that is explicitly prohibited against civilians during times of war under the Geneva Convention.

Villagers say that their land was illegally confiscated by the mine as part of an extension agreement with the former military regime and have called for an end to the project, which they say will pollute the area. The mine is run by a joint venture, formed in 2010, between the Burmese military and a subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer. Its expansion will bury surrounding villages and rice paddies with mine tailings.

The Letpadaung copper mine, owned by the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a Burmese military conglomerate, and Wanbao Mining, a subsidiary of Chinese industrial and arms manufacturer China North Industries Corporation (Norinco), has long been controversial. Villagers at the nearby Monywa Copper Project have had health problems from air, soil, and water contamination they believe are the result of mining processes.

To argue against the protests, President Thein Sein assigned Suu Kyi to lead an investigation commission which has to engage in the copper-mine affairs. Her commission released its findings on March 12. Annoyed villagers have disregarded the report, which they rejected was not meet their demands.

The standoff over the mine has attracted national attention partly because it has come to symbolize widespread land seizures in Burma. The issue exposes President Thein Sein’s government for overlooking poor farmers while favoring cronies who exploit natural resources.

In fact, the tricky situation of the copper mine was created by the consecutive military regimes. The military authorities ought to tackle the issue by themselves. However, on 1 December 2012, Thein Sein had set up a 30-member “Investigation Commission” chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi to look into whether copper mining should be continued.

Some have even said that involving Suu Kyi was a government ploy to discredit her among the local villagers and to contain her popularity ahead of the 2015 General Elections.

Nonetheless, during an interview with RFA’s Burmese Service, Min Ko Naing warned the people concerning the copper-mine crisis that there should not be any quarrel among comrades who fight for a true democratic system, especially between the citizens suffered from the political chaos and the esteemed leader (Aung San Suu Kyi), who most people trust in.