Lack of Transparency to Blame for Mine Conflict: Suu Kyi

By Zarni Mann 6 December 2012

RANGOON — Speaking as the head of a commission investigating last week’s violent crackdown on protests against the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Thursday that the problem stems largely from the lack of transparency surrounding the project.

“Since the mining project is based on a contract between the government and a Chinese company that was not subject to public scrutiny, these problems arose,” Suu Kyi said at a press briefing to explain the progress of the commission’s investigation.

“If we want democracy, we have to ensure that [such projects] consider the long-term benefit of the country and the people, or we will not be able to avoid this kind of problem again in the future,” she said.

Suu Kyi’s remarks come amid continuing anger over the pre-dawn crackdown last Thursday on protests by Buddhist monks and local activists opposed to the mine, which is a joint venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and Wanbao, a Chinese company with ties to a state-owned weapons manufacturer.

More than 70 people suffered injuries, including severe burns, when police in Sagaing Division moved to shut down a camp set up by the protesters.

Solidarity protests have also taken place in other parts of the country, leading to the arrest of at least eight activists, including prominent dissidents Naw Ohn Hla and Wai Lu. Protests condemning the raid, mainly led by Buddhist monks, continue in many cities in the country.

In Mandalay, more than 200 monks took part in a sit-in protest at Eaindawya Pagoda on Thursday to call for the unconditional release of the detained activists and to urge the authorities to charge whoever was responsible for the raid on the camp in Letpadaung.

Monks have also been marching in the streets of Rangoon and Taunggyi, the largest city in Shan State, to make similar demands.

Speaking to the press on Thursday, Suu Kyi asked why the protests are continuing.

“If I know and understand the desires of the protesters, which are important, it will be easier to help resolve the problem. We all have to work together to build understanding,” she said, adding that the commission will do everything possible to win the release of the detained protesters.

She said that the commission will also consult with experts from outside the government to determine whether incendiary bombs were used against the protesters, and speak with Buddhist religious leaders to discuss the role of monks in the protests.

Besides investigating the crackdown, the commission is also supposed to advise the government on whether it should allow the mining project to go forward.

“We will study if the copper mine is following international standards, and also consider whether it is beneficial for the country and the people. We need to know how it affects local people, too,” she added.

According to information released by the investigation commission, 73 Buddhist monks and six other activists were injured during the crackdown and were admitted to Mandalay General Hospital the day after the raid.

Thirty-seven of the monks have since been moved to Kandaw Nadi, a special hospital for monks, while 17 monks and one activist are receiving treatment in separate surgery wards. Five monks and one other activist who have severe burns on their faces are receiving treatment from specialists.