Suu Kyi Urges Calm after Brutal Protest Raid

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 29 November 2012

RANGOON—Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to condemn Burmese security forces for Thursday morning’s brutal crackdown on a peaceful anti-copper mine protest and told a crowd of thousands that she will strive to resolve the situation.

“I want to get this issue resolved peacefully,” said the Nobel laureate. “For that I shall try my best even though I cannot guarantee anything. Such a peaceful solution would not harm the people and would also boost the integrity of the country.”

The pre-dawn raid on demonstrators near Monywa in central Burma has generated a deluge of criticism for Burma’s quasi-civilian government, and many have since questioned whether President’s Thein Sein’s reformist policies are just a sham and the country is backsliding into dictatorship.

Suu Kyi addressed the crowd in Monywa on Thursday evening after meeting with representatives of both China’s Wan Bao Company and the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. The project is run by both as a joint venture.

The National League for Democracy chairwoman was already due to pay a visit to Sagaing Division to talk to protesters at their camp on Thursday afternoon. She said that she intended to talk to local people about their concerns.

Despite Suu Kyi’s reluctance to apportion blame for the crackdown, numerous political activists, politicians and public figures have all been quick to denounce the Burmese government for its zero tolerance approach.

Tun Myint Aung, rural affairs representative from the 88 Generation Students Group, said the raid achieved nothing but foster a growing mistrust between the government and people that could badly affect future stability.

“It’s an act of violence,” he said. The government’s response really surprises me. They said they are on the way to democracy, and now they are heavy-handedly cracking down on peaceful demonstrators. What are they thinking?”

Aung Moe Zaw, the chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society exiled political party, condemned the crackdown and asked for those involved to be prosecuted.

“I’m strongly against their action for the raid could erase international credibility for Burma’s Union government,” he told The Irrawaddy. “So I request for legal action on those behind the crackdown. If they keep doing things like that the government will lose credibility internationally as well as locally.”

A few hours after the raid, images of monks with severe burns spread throughout social media such as Facebook, sparking public anger in a country where 80 percent of population is Buddhist.

“They have to pay for what they have done,” said Kyaw Thu, the chairman of the Rangoon-based Free Funeral Service Society, adding that such a brutal assault should not happen a day after the Tazaungmone full moon, one of the holiest occasions in the Burmese calendar.

“If the government has sympathy for its people, this would not happen,” he added.

Par Par Lay, one of Burma’s famous Moustache Brothers comedy trio, told The Irrawaddy from Mandalay that “it shows that we still haven’t enjoyed fully-blossomed democracy.”

“I’m not sure if they are turning back to dictatorship,” said the entertainer, whose troupe still has not been allowed to perform its political satire in public despite recent democratic reforms.

Indhaka, one of the leading monks of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, said he felt the crackdown was aimed at the Buddhist clergy as most of the victims wore robes.

“If the government enters into negotiations [on this issue], Thein Sein will surely gain a good name for himself again, but he won’t,” said the monk. “They are like devils with angels’ faces. Now we know who they really are.”

Indhaka added that people in Letpadaung were only staging a peaceful protest to guarantee the safety of their land. “Now let me ask if we were to go to China and make deals that had a negative impact on their environment, would they be happy with us?”