Govt. Apologizes to Monks Injured in Copper Mine Raid

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 16 December 2012

RANGOON—A minister from the president’s office has apologized to Buddhist monks who were injured during a police raid at a Chinese-backed copper mine late last month, in the government’s latest response to nationwide demands for justice.

In a formal ceremony on Saturday in the country’s second-largest city of Mandalay, Union Minister Hla Tun spoke on behalf of President Thein Sein, saying the government apologized for injuring the monks during the raid.

Hla Tun was the highest ranking official so far to express regret to the monks, who have been asking the president to apologize since the Nov. 29 crackdown on the mine near Letpadaung mountain range in Sagaing Division, Upper Burma.

He was also the first official to apologize directly to clerics who were wounded during the raids.

The government previously apologized to a group of elder monks who were not present at the pre-dawn crackdown, which saw nearly 100 Buddhist clerics injured when riot police reportedly used tear gas, water cannons and incendiary devices.

Ashin Ottama Sara, a leading monk in Mandalay who attended the ceremony on Saturday, said the monks were pleased by the minister’s apology.

“Our injured monks accept the apology, and their wishes are very important,” he said.

He said the ceremony had been brokered by the 88 Generation Students group, a pro-democracy group known for its activism against the former military junta.

“They came to us last week, and asked us what we wanted,” the monk said.

After the raid, two leaders from the 88 Generation Students group were invited to join a government investigation team led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but they declined to participate because they wanted to investigate the incident independently.

Pyone Cho, an activist from the group who met the monks, declined to comment specifically on the group’s role in broking the ceremony.

“We don’t want to see tension escalate between the monks and the government,” he said. “We just did what we could.”

After the raid, monks began organizing peaceful protests nationwide to demand justice. The government responded by issuing apologies, from Sagaing Division’s police chief and the country’s religious affairs minister, but the monks were not satisfied because the apologies did not come the president and were not directed at those who were injured during the crackdown.

On Wednesday, thousands of monks protested in major cities including Rangoon and Mandalay. Taking to the streets, they called on the president to apologize and demanded an investigation into the perpetrators of the attack. They also demanded the unconditional release of those detained during the raid and in subsequent protests.

While many monks accepted the latest apology on Saturday, another leading cleric who attended the ceremony said only one of their three main demands had been met.

“We will wait for the president to make a statement about who was behind the crackdown and the unconditional release of those detained,” said Kavira, known as “Red Galon Sayadaw.”

In the meantime, he said, monks would halt their protests while waiting for results from the government’s investigation team.

On Friday, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that the oldest monk attacked during the raid, 64-year-old Teikkha Nyana, went to Thailand to receive medical treatment for his burns. The paper said the government had paid one million Thai baht (US $32,600) in advance to a hospital in Bangkok.