Aung San Suu Kyi

Suu Kyi to lead probe into crackdown at Chinese-backed mine

Commission to assess why protesters at Chinese-backed operation were attacked by police in raid that left scores of monks and activists injured

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2012, 4:50am

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will lead a probe into a crackdown on a protest against a Chinese-backed copper mine that left scores of monks injured, the president's office said yesterday.

The inquiry will also assess the future of the disputed project.

Activists and Buddhist monks occupied the mine in northern Myanmar for 11 days before police used water cannons, tear gas and smoke bombs to break up the protest on Thursday.

Weapons that protesters described as flare guns caused severe burns to protesters and set shelters ablaze.

The commission would "investigate the truth" of the pre-dawn raid by riot police and assess whether the "copper mining project is being implemented in accord with international norms", a statement on the presidential office website, signed by Thein Sein, said.

The commission would also advise on whether "to continue the copper mining project and whether to stop foreign investment", the statement said.

The committee will encompass a broad cross-section of interests, including three local villagers and an official from the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a partner in the copper mine project alongside a unit of China North Industries, a Chinese weapons manufacturer.

It should report by the end of the month, the statement said.

Police yesterday apologised for injuring scores of monks in the crackdown. About 100 police went to apologise to 10 monks in Monywa, a town near the mine where the raid occurred.

But it was unclear if the monks accepted the apology for a raid which left many badly burned.

Around 40 monks accompanied by about 60 other people staged a peaceful march around the Sule Pagoda in Yangon and at least 100 monks demonstrated in the second city, Mandalay.

Suu Kyi visited the area and on Friday demanded an apology for monks hurt in the crackdown, after holding talks with both sides. But the veteran dissident struck a conciliatory tone towards China and declined to back calls for an immediate halt to work on the mine.

It was unclear exactly what caused the protesters' burns, but Thein Sein's office denied local media allegations that some kind of chemical weapon was deployed. State media said tear gas and smoke bombs were used. Photographs of the injuries have stirred an outcry across Myanmar, reminding the public of the brutal junta-era security force tactics.

With many monks still being treated in hospital, Aye Net, a protest leader in Monywa, said she could not forgive the police despite the apology.

"I will never forget the scenes of their crackdown," she said.

Protesters allege mass evictions have taken place to make way for the mine, while Beijing insists the contentious issues have already been resolved.

In a renewed sign of growing anti-China sentiment, about 50 people marched to the Chinese embassy in Yangon yesterday.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at US-based Human Rights Watch, called for a speedy, impartial investigation by the government.

"A hospital ward full of horribly burned Buddhist monks deserve to know who attacked them while they were sleeping," he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters