Report commissioned after police crackdown on protesters says near-$1bn joint venture mine with Chinese firm should continue
Opponents of a copper mine worth nearly $1bn in north-western Burma have expressed outrage over a government-ordered report that said the project should continue and that refrained from demanding punishment for police involved in a violent crackdown on protesters.
The opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, chaired the investigation commission behind the report, which was released late on Monday night. It could pose a problem for Aung San Suu Kyi by identifying her with the government’s pro-growth policies against the interests of the grassroots people’s movements.
President Thein Sein appointed the commission after police cracked down on protesters at the Letpadaung mine on 29 November, leaving scores in hospital with serious burns.
Thwe Thwe Win, a protest leader, said on Tuesday that demonstrations would resume. “I am very dissatisfied and it is unacceptable,” she said. “There is no clause that will punish anyone who had ordered the violent crackdown. Action should be taken against the person who gave the order.”
Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to travel to the mine area, in the town of Monywa, 450 miles north of Rangoon, to meet the protesters on Wednesday.
Activists say the mine, a joint venture between China’s Wan Bao mining company and a Burmese military conglomerate, causes environmental, social and health problems and should be shut down.
The report said the operation should not be halted, even though it acknowledged that the mine lacked strong environmental protection measures and would not create more jobs for local people. The report said scrapping the mine could create tension with China and could discourage much-needed foreign investment.
Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997m joint venture, signed in May 2010, did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it was concluded under the previous military regime. Many in Burma remain suspicious of the military and regard China as an aggressive and exploitative investor that helped support its rule.
“The commission should think about the welfare of their own people, poor local villagers, rather than good relations with China,” Thwe Thwe Win said.
Aung Thein, an activist lawyer who works with the protesters, said the assertion that the contract should be honoured to maintain good relations was meaningless.
“Some people are afraid of China, but the people in general are not, and they don’t feel any obligation toward China,” he said.
The November crackdown was the biggest use of force against protesters in Burma since Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in March 2011. The military junta that led the country for the previous five decades frequently crushed political dissent.
The use of incendiary devices by the police in the middle of the night to break up the 11-day occupation of mine property outraged many people, especially because most of the people who were burned were Buddhist monks.
The authorities had said they used water cannon, teargas and smoke grenades to break up the protest.
A separate, independent report released last month by a Myanmar lawyers network and an international human rights group said police dispersed the protesters by using white phosphorus, an incendiary agent generally used in war to create smokescreens.
The report released on Monday acknowledged that smoke bombs containing phosphorus were used. It said the smoke bombs do not generally create a flame but the phosphorus in them can sometimes burn flammable materials within an 8-metre radius.
Senior police told the commission that they used the same smoke bombs during monk-led protests in 2007 – the demonstrations known as the Saffron Revolution – and they didn’t cause any burns then. The commission faulted the police force for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that police receive riot-control training.
Aung Thein, who helped prepare the earlier independent report, said that police should have known the bombs could cause fires. “There is no excuse for ignorance,” he said.