Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says violently driving off peaceful protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division was wrong.
“People have a right to know why they were forced off, which was unnecessary. I will ask the authorities today,” she told a crowd of thousands on the banks of the Chindwin River near Monywa on Friday morning.
“To solve the problem is to negotiate, not to throw incendiary devices at those you do not favor,” she added.
The Nobel laureate urged local people to remain calm and pledged that she would investigate and negotiate between all parties. However, she could not promise to stop the mining project.
“We have to calm down and live harmoniously with all neighboring countries,” she said. “We need to examine the facts with the investigation commission to sort this out. However, I’m not a witch doctor who can stop this project immediately.”
The 67-year-old visited victims at Monywa General Hospital on Thursday evening where more than 50 monks and other injured activists are being treated for severe burns sustained during the brutal crackdown.
“I’ve seen the patients and some are in a serious condition,” she said.
The National League for Democracy chairwoman also expressed disappointment regarding the statement defending the raid that appeared on the official website of the Burmese President’s Office on Thursday evening.
“The protesters are entering the prohibited area where [Emergency] Act 144 [prohibiting gatherings] is active. The security forces had to crack down because the protesters defied the warning to leave the area by midnight of Nov. 27,” said the statement.
The President Office’s retracted the message within a matter of hours without providing any explanation or apology.
“I do not understand why they did this [release the statement],” said Suu Kyi. “This should not happen.”
Hundreds of local people, activist and Buddhist monks from Monywa, Mandalay and Pakokku had been camping outside of China’s Wan Bao Company’s offices at the Letpadaung copper mine since Nov. 18 to demand the project shuts down.
Despite an order to leave the area by midnight on Tuesday issued by the security forces, the protesters defied the warning and refused to abandon their six camps.
The raid then occurred at around 2:30 am on Thursday, just a few hours before Suu Kyi was due to arrive in the area and meet the protesters. Riot police reportedly used water cannons, tear gas and incendiary devices leading to more than 70 people being injured. Seven Buddhist monks were detained onsite but were released the following day.
An editorial in China’s Global Times, owned by the country’s ruling Communist Party, appeared to blame Western agitators for stirring up the protesters.
“It will be a lose-lose situation for China and Myanmar if the project is halted. Only third parties, including some Western forces, will be glad to see this result,” read the article.
“Protesters first asked for more compensation, but now want to stop this project and are demanding that the Chinese company leaves. There are definitely some Westerners and NGOs instigating these protesters. More importantly, however, Myanmar’s political climate has changed and the government cannot control public opinion.
“Democracy promises to give everyone in the world equal rights, but this is only an illusion. Development is the last word, as [former Chinese leader] Deng Xiaoping asserted more than 20 years ago. It is a value that applies to everyone in the world.”
Meanwhile, a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon sought to play down Beijing’s role in the dispute.
“Issues such as relocation, compensation, environmental protection and profit sharing regarding this project were jointly settled through negotiations by the two sides and meet Myanmar’s laws and regulations,” read the statement.
“We hope all levels of Myanmar society can create a favorable environment for the project’s smooth operation based on respect for laws and regulations of Myanmar.”
The copper mining project is a joint venture between Wan Bao Company and Burma’s military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd and has been working in the area since 2011.
Protests by farmers demanding the return of 7,800 confiscated acres of land from 26 nearby villages began in July, and grew in strength after the leaders were detained by the local authorities.
Civil society groups soon became involved and highlighted the environmental damage caused by waste products from the worksite, as well as the decimation of nearby Sabae and Kyay Sin mountains and threats to religious buildings in the area.