Associated Press, November 30, 2012
MONYWA, BURMA: Security forces have used water cannon, tear-gas and smoke bombs to clear protesters from a copper mine in northwestern Burma.
Villagers and Buddhist monks were injured in the violence, which was the biggest use of force against demonstrators since the reformist government of President Thein Sein took office last year.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived in the area on a scheduled visit, said she would try to negotiate a solution.
In a statement broadcast on state television, the government initially acknowledged using the riot-control measures but denied using excessive force. In an unusual move, it later retracted the statement without explanation.
Monks and other protesters had serious burns after the crackdown at the Letpadaung mine near the town of Monywa. Protesters who oppose the mine’s impact on villagers and the environment had occupied the area for 11 days.
“I didn’t expect to be treated like this, as we were peacefully protesting,” said Aung Myint Htway, a peanut farmer whose face and body were covered with black patches of burnt skin.
The police action is a public relations and political disaster for Thein Sein’s government, which has been touting its transition to democracy after almost five decades of repressive military rule.
“This is unacceptable,” said Ottama Thara, a 25-year-old monk who was at the protest. “This kind of violence should not happen under a government that says it is committed to democratic reforms.”
Police moved early on Thursday to disperse protesters after some heeded earlier warnings to leave.
“Around 2.30am police announced they would give us five minutes to leave,” Aung Myint Htway said. He said police fired water cannon first and then shot what he and others called flare guns.
“They fired black balls that exploded into fire sparks. They shot about six times. People ran away and they followed us,” he said, still writhing hours later from pain. “It’s very hot.”
Photos of the wounded monks showed they had serious burns on parts of their bodies. It was unclear what sort of weapon caused them, or whether the burns were caused by their shelters catching fire from whatever devices police used.