Court Rejects Complaint against President over Protest Raid

By Zarni Mann 11 March 2013

A lawyer of villagers in Sagaing Division said a court has rejected their attempt to file a lawsuit against President Thein Sein for his alleged role in a crackdown on protests against a controversial copper mine in north western Burma.

“The court returned the file, with a rejection remark, saying it is unreasonable to open a case,” Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min, a consultant lawyer to the plaintiffs, said on Monday.

Three farmers from Hsetae and Moegyoepyin villages, located in the disputed area of the Letpadaung mine, submitted their complaint to Salingyi Township Court last week, alleging that Thein Sein carried responsibility for the brutal police raid on Nov. 29, which injured about a hundred protesting Buddhist monks and locals.

The villagers, who said they were among the protestors during the raid, filed the complaint as they felt that the authorities were not being held accountable for the incident.

Their lawyer said that despite Salingyi Township Court’s rejection villagers would press on with their complaint, adding that they would now submit a lawsuit against Thein Sein at Monywa District Court and, if necessary, Sagaing Division Court.

“Since the Constitution says there is the right to sue a civil servant, even the president could be sued,” Saw Kyaw Kyaw Min said, adding that villagers wanted to try every possible legal avenue to hold a government leader responsible for the violent raid.

The Letpadaung Copper Mine project is a joint venture between the Burmese military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) and its Chinese partner, the Wanbao company, which is a subsidiary of Norinco, a state-owned arms manufacturer.

Local people claim that 7,800 acres (3,156 hectares) of farmland were confiscated from them in 2010 for the project. The protests began last year after farmers in the area said their fields were also being contaminated by waste from the mine. Later it became a nationwide flashpoint, as local villagers and rights and environmental activists joined in the protest.

After the crackdown in November, the government formed a commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to determine how the incident occurred. A commission member has said it already submitted their findings to Suu Kyi, but it was unclear if Thein Sein, who ordered the formation of the commission, has seen it yet.

The lack of any discernible progress continues to frustrate local people and activists around the country.