Myanmar's government has apologised to senior Buddhist clerics over injuries sustained in a violent police crackdown on a rally at a Chinese-backed copper mine, state media said yesterday.
Religious Affairs Minister Myint Maung said the incident at the mine in Monywa, north Myanmar - in which at least 99 monks and 11 others suffered wounds including severe burns - was a "great grief".
At a ceremony with some of the country's top clerics, he "begged the pardon of wounded monks and novices", blaming the authorities' "incompetency", the New Light of Myanmar reported. But he stopped short of apologising for the crackdown itself, saying the demonstration had a "political" element and that the government was treating the wounded with a "clear conscience".
The pre-dawn raid on protest camps at the mine last month was the toughest clampdown on demonstrators since the reformist government came to power last year.
Photographs of the protesters' injuries have stirred outcry across Myanmar, reminding the public of the brutal junta-era security tactics, including the notorious 2007 "Saffron Revolution" crackdown on mass monk-led rallies.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been appointed to lead a probe into the incident, as well as claims of evictions and pollution at the mine.
The Monywa mine dispute centres on allegations of mass evictions and environmental damage caused by the project - a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings.
Activists are calling for work at the project to be suspended to allow for impact studies, but China insists the contentious points have already been resolved.
Several people are being held without bail at Yangon's infamous Insein prison over their involvement in other protests against the mine.
According to the New Light of Myanmar, Bhaddanta Kumarabhivamsa, one of the country's most senior monks, called upon all parties to ensure such incidents do not happen again.