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MONYWA and RANGOON—Victims sat or lay down while receiving medical treatment at Monywa Hospital in Sagaing Division after a brutal pre-dawn crackdown by security forces on Thursday.
Faces, ears, hands, legs and backs were brutally burnt after tear gas, water cannons and incendiary devices were reportedly used by riot police with at least 27 monks injured in the resulting blazes. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to visit the scene on Thursday afternoon.
The peaceful protesters were demanding a halt to a Chinese-backed copper mine at the Letpadaung mountain range and did not expect such an aggressive response from the security forces.
A monk called U Theika Nyana who was seriously injured in the raid has been sent to Mandalay Hospital for emergency treatment. Reports circulated that one monk died from his injuries, but The Irrawaddy was unable to independently verify this at the time of publication.
While receiving treatment for severe burns to his face, Buddhist monk U Kawida told The Irrawaddy that he took three hours to reach the hospital from where the crackdown took place. “The fire broke out while we were asleep. We were burnt, but there was no one to help us. The authorities didn’t help us,” said the 25-year-old.
An estimated 100 riot police raided six protest camps near Monywa, some 136 km northwest of Mandalay in Upper Burma, at around 2:30 am after suddenly demanding all protesters leave the area within five minutes.
“They fired tear gas. The fire came from the gas. For about one hour we tried to escape from the flames and we finally reached the hospital in Monywa at 6 am,” said Kawida, another monk receiving treatment.
A hospital employee confirmed that the injured monks arrived in the early hours but declined to elaborate on the condition of patients.
Ye Ying Aung, who witnessed the raid firsthand, said that police and firefighters are now patrolling the scene and all protesters have since fled the area. Some activists including six monks were beaten, arrested and taken away from the protest camp to unknown location, claim local sources.
All six protest camps have now been shut down by the local authorities. Security has also been also beefed up around Monywa Hospital with activists warned that they will be arrested if their protest continues, according to local sources.
The copper mining project is a joint-venture between China’s Wan Bao Company and the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.
The project has come under pressure since August this year after more than 300 residents from 12 villages in the Letpadaung mountain range staged protests to demand its closure citing environmental destruction, land confiscation and forced relocations.