Use of Phosphorus in Protest Raid Outrages Activist, Victims

A monk lays in a hospital bed in Monywa shortly after sustaining burns in a Nov. 29 crackdown on protesters against a Chinese-backed copper mine. (Photo: Man Thar Lay / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — An independent investigation into a raid that injured dozens of protesters who opposed a copper mine in northwest Burma in November, found that police shot canisters containing white phosphorus into the crowd.

The highly-flammable chemical is often used for military purposes to illuminate areas or to create smoke.

“Our team went to Bangkok after collecting materials from the crackdown and laboratory tests found phosphorus on it,” said Thein Than Oo, the head of the legal committee of the Upper Burma Lawyers Network.

He was reluctant to discuss the findings in detail, saying that the group would bring out a report after a parliamentary commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi completes its findings on the incident and the mining project.

“We want to see the result from Letpaduang commission first. At that time, we can say what we have found and from their side, we can know what they have found and whether they have laboratory tests,” Thein Than Oo said. He added that the group had sent their results to Suu Kyi.

Her commission was due to release its findings on the Letpadaung mine by Dec. 31, but no results have been released. It also remains unclear if it is only investigating the project, or if the crackdown is also in the commission’s purview.

The news of the test results was first reported on Wednesday night by The New York Times, which gained access to the evidence and said it appeared to be a military-use smoke grenade.

A security expert who had seen the canister told The Times that such devices emit burning particles in a radius of about 50 meters.

Ye Htut, a spokesperson from the President’s Office, said he had no immediate reaction to the findings. “It may interfere if I give comment about this result before the investigation team from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reports,” he said.

Ko Ko Gyi, an activist leader of the 88 Generation Students group, said the findings were shocking and showed that government leaders should get to the very bottom of what happened at the Letpadaung crackdown.

“It is not difficult to investigate for the government and find out who are who doing this and why, and find out the type of weapons they used,” he said.

“In order not to let it happen again in the future, they (the government) should take action and punish those people who give orders to do this,” Ko Ko Gyi said.

The canister was retrieved from the scene of the crackdown near the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division on Nov. 29.

Almost 100 people were injured there when riot police reportedly used tear gas, water cannons and incendiary devices in a bid to close a protest camp located outside of the copper mining company.

The company is a joint venture of China’s Wan Bao Company and Burma’s military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited.

Most of the injured were monks who sustained severe burns. Several suffered third-degree burns over most of their bodies and are being treated in Thailand.

U Zavana, a senior Buddhist monk who was among the victims, said in a reaction to the news that the government should prosecute those who gave the order to use the smoke grenades.

“The government has responsibility to find the people and punish who ordered this,” he said, adding that the police’s actions cast doubt on the government’s promise that it was changing from its old repressive ways.

“We cannot say at all that we can trust in this political change because if we look they brutally cracked down on us and used bombs when our actions affected their properties,” the monk said.

“We were acting with metta [loving kindness] and we never expected that we could be burn like this,” he said.

“My novices or young monks were wounded; I am taking care of them as I am worried that they will have a depression.”

Thet Swe Aye from The Irrawaddy contributed to this article.

6 Responses to Use of Phosphorus in Protest Raid Outrages Activist, Victims

  1. The use of phosphorus canister means that in Kachin war bama military thugs might or will use the chemical weapon as well.

  2. I’m amazed to find out how some people are led to believe that the so-called reforms are real. No they are not, they are just the illusions. It’s part of the military’s master plan. Shake yourselves up from these self-delusion. How can you believe that they are working towards democracy? Have you ever find democracy flourishing in the military – any military? They only have command and obey. If there were democracy as such there would not have been war in Iraq. If one took a mirage as the real thing one would go so far as to get disappointed but if one were to deceive oneself by believing something real as a mirage then one would find oneself drowned.

  3. What more evidence do we need? They wage chemical war against the civilians and the monks. Why do we need to look for scapegoat? The government must be accountable and be responsive.

  4. Wicket action with full intention to keep the monks away from all kinds of protests. This Government see the monks as a threat to their chair, no longer see them as the religious figures who sharing the hardness of the ordinary peoples. This Phosphorus gas can inflict serious burn to the wet objects. The months were sprayed with the water cannon first, then sprayed with the Phosphorus gas to have the maximum effectiveness. In Kachins, no chance to spray water first, but still can inflict serious burn (damages) to the forests. Some KIA soldiers burned to char. It is purely serious chemical weapon. The Military Generals and the Government VIPs who responsible must go to ICC. UN US UK (Not China), please pay attention. The one ignore the Crimes against Humanity Committed by this Government will be branded as the Collaborator of the Crimes Against Humanity.

  5. The predominant religion in Burma is Buddhism, at the heart of which is selfless love (metta) and non-violence (ahimsa), and anyone who truly embrace Buddhism also embrace both metta and ahimsa together. In sharp contrast, Burma leaders, who claim to be devout Buddhists, are more than busy with oppressing, brutalizing, dehumanizing, and killing political dissidents, ethnic leaders, university students, and even Buddhist monks in the name of security, peace, and law. Though Buddhism is purely a religion of peace and nonviolence, those who claim to be Buddhists, like Ne Win, Saw Maung, Than Shwe, Thein Sein, and so on, are not merely merciless, but also violent, and inhuman.

    It is indeed unacceptable that Buddhist monks are bombed with chemical weapons by Buddhist police officers in the so-called Buddhist country. I am, however, not surprised by this tragedy basically because Burma leaders, including Thein Sein, have never been hesitant to suppress and kill their own citizens, who firmly stand for the truth, defend the weak against the oppressors, and champion for justice against injustice, oppression, and dehumanization.

    I wish the monks, who have been injured, recover from their wounds!

  6. There is no ambiguity in the definition of responsibility.
    Remember how they pronounced this incident as a small affair and how it was a small accident. Those responsible for ordering or approval of the use of the bomb(s) should be immediately relieved from their duties, and charged with criminal law suit..

    The Home Affairs Minister should resign. Otherwise it is difficult for the President to build real and genuine trust and confidence amongst the public. This trust and confidence is essential for further works towards peace and prosperity of the country.

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