RANGOON — Activists in Burma demanded punishment on Thursday for officials who were responsible for the use of incendiary weapons against peaceful protesters at a copper mine, resulting in serious burns for dozens of people including Buddhist monks.
Lawyers and others who investigated the Nov. 29 crackdown at the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Burma told reporters that President Thein Sein must share responsibility and ensure justice is achieved.
Speaking at the launch of a report on the incident, they said police used shells containing white phosphorous, an incendiary munition, to disperse the protesters. White phosphorous can be used legally in some battlefield conditions, but activists say it should not be deployed against civilians.
Authorities have acknowledged using tear gas and smoke grenades.
The incident involved the biggest use of force against protesters in Burma since Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in March 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. His administration has been hailed for releasing hundreds of political prisoners and implementing laws allowing public demonstrations and labor strikes.
Protesters say the mine project, a joint venture between China’s Wan Bao mining company—a subsidiary of Norinco, a weapons manufacturer—and the military conglomerate Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd (UMEHL)—a military-owned holding company—causes environmental, social and health problems, and want it halted.
“The use of inherently dangerous military arms to disperse peaceful protesters, apparently by local police during a standard law enforcement procedure, is clearly unlawful and raises issues of liability for those directly involved and for senior responsible levels of command and control in the military and government and for senior executives/military officers at Wan Bao and UMEHL,” the report said.
It was compiled by Lawyers’ Network, an independent association of leading Burmese lawyers, and Justice Trust, an international group engaged in supporting the rule of law and human rights.
Thwe Thwe Win, an activist from a village near the mine, accused its operators of damaging residents’ land and livelihood.
“Everyone including President Thein Sein, the home minister, UMEHL and the Chinese Wan Bao company are responsible for the crackdown,” she said.
She said the villagers will not take further action until an official commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issues its own report on the project and the crackdown. If it does not call for ending the project, they will resume protesting, she said.