Vow for ‘Truth’ in Mine Probe

Aung San Suu Kyi promises an inquiry into a controversial copper mine in northern Burma will be based on what is best for the people.
2012-12-06
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Aung San Suu Kyi greets supporters from a car in Monywa, Nov. 30, 2012.
AFP

The commission tasked with determining the future of a controversial China-backed mine in northern Burma will do so based on “the truth” and the people’s long-term interests, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi promised Thursday, as members of the panel met with local residents amid ongoing protests.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, who heads the commission, said the panel would put the truth over the interests of any side in the dispute over the Letpadaung mine in Sagaing division, which prompted a national outcry after a brutal crackdown last week on monks and local residents protesting the project.

“We will submit what we see from our investigation, but we can’t make everybody happy,” she said, speaking at a press conference at the regional parliament building in Rangoon.

“Making everybody happy is not the responsibility of the commission. The commission’s responsibility is to find the truth.”

The commission was set up on Saturday, two days after the police raid on protest camps at the mine site in the Letpadaung hills, to determine whether the mine was being developed according to international standards and whether it was beneficial to the country and to the people.

“The commission will put forward recommendations which are based on the truth and in long-term interest of the nation and the people,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.

She stressed that transparency and mutual understanding is needed for projects such as the mine, which is a joint venture between the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. (UMEHL) and North China Industries Corp. (Norinco), China’s top arms manufacturer.

“We are facing these kinds of problems because we didn’t have transparency with the Chinese companies that have made investments in Burma,” she said.

“Mutual understanding is needed for the best solution.”

The commission was initially tasked with assessing the pros and cons of the mine as well as investigating actions taken against protesters. But according to a revised order from the president’s office on Monday, the raid is no longer under the inquiry’s purview.

Nonetheless, Aung San Suu Kyi said that the commission will 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, according to the Irrawaddy online newspaper.

Authorities have said that smoke bombs, tear gas, and water cannons were used in the crackdown.

Photos posted on social media sites of monks who had suffered burns, which monks and local media said were from a chemical security forces had used to disperse the crowds, drew online outrage, though authorities have denied chemicals were used in the raid.

Inquiry underway

The commission, which will submit a report to the government by the end of January, has begun gathering information from local residents affected by the project.

Eight members of the panel met on Thursday with some 1,000 local residents in Letpadaung, where villagers have accused the mine developers of illegally confiscating farmland without providing adequate compensation.

“We local residents told them about the suffering and the problems we are facing. We also told them that we want the project stopped,” a resident of the area said.

Villagers have said they do not want pollution from the mine to destroy the area and said that authorities had confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages to make way for the mine.

Demand for an apology

Monks have staged protests in cities across Rangoon since Friday to call for a full apology for the crackdown, which has drawn condemnation from human rights groups.

On Wednesday, monks staged sit-in protests in Mandalay, the largest city in northern Burma, as well as other cities in the region, including Wakema, Chauk, Taunggyi, Mogoke.

Ottama, a monk leading the Mandalay sit-in led attended by some 300 monks, said that in addition to an apology, they demanded action taken against the security forces who conducted the raid and to free activists who were arrested for their role in the protests.

“If we don’t get any response by Dec. 12, we will raise our protests to the level of a general uprising,” he said.

Several activists involved in the protests, including Moe Thway and Aung Soe who were among the protest leaders, have been charged under a law that has denied them release on bail.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.