Myanmar police fire rubber bullets at protest over China-backed mine
Police fired rubber bullets at protesters who gathered at a roadblock near a Chinese-backed copper mine project in northwestern Myanmar, injuring seven, a lawmaker said yesterday.
Nine officers also were hurt, a monk said, when villagers retaliated with slingshots.
The incident occurred near the Letpadaung mine in the Monywa division of Sagain region late on Thursday after days of mounting tensions, said Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party.
Police blocked a road frequently used by residents from Mogyopyin village to try to disrupt the shipment of supplies to a small "protest camp" set up by Buddhist monks near the mine, said Sandar Thiri, one of the monks.
The Letpadaung mine - a joint venture between a Myanmar military-controlled holding company and China's Wanbao Mining Copper - drew international attention one year ago when police dispersed protesters with smoke bombs containing white phosphorus.
Those who oppose the project say it will cause major environmental, social and health problems.
But following a revision of the contract and compensation to villagers, a report by a president-appointed investigation commission headed by Suu Kyi recommended that the project be allowed to go ahead.
The incident came as Myanmar's president pardoned 69 political prisoners, including two grandsons of a former dictator, as part of a promise to free all such prisoners by the end of the year.
Most of those newly freed are members of ethnic minorities, said Ye Aung, who is on the government's political prisoner scrutiny committee.
The freed grandsons of former dictator Ne Win had been on death row since 2002 for allegedly attempting to stage a coup against the then-military regime of Than Shwe.
The continued detention of political prisoners in Myanmar has been a concern of the US and other Western nations, which are promoting the country's transition to democracy.
Despite the pardons, critics note that people continue to be locked up for political offences under the nominally civilian government that took office in early 2011.
"Today's release is of course welcome, but the fact remains that there are many imprisoned for peaceful activism still behind bars in Myanmar," said Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director.