Lawsuit Filed over Mine Protest Crackdown

2013-03-04
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burma-letpadaung-monk-dec-2012.jpg
A Buddhist monk displays injuries he received during a protest crackdown at a copper mine in Monywa, Dec. 3, 2012.
AFP

Residents of villages surrounding a controversial China-backed copper mine in northern Burma filed a lawsuit Monday against President Thein Sein for “failing to reveal” the identities of officials behind a brutal crackdown on protests against the mine last year.

The suit was filed at a court in the Sarlingyi township where the Letpadaung copper mine in Burma's Sagaing division is situated.

The villagers expressed frustration that the authorities have not acted on calls to bring to justice those who ordered the much criticized crackdown three months ago.

Police had stormed a protest camp at the mining site on Nov. 29, leaving 100 protesting monks and 11 others severely injured.

Some activists allege that security forces used highly flammable white phosphorus on the protesters during the predawn raid, as many of those injured had sustained severe burns.

Following the crackdown, the government set up a commission led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate the feasibility of the mine project located near Monywa city.

But there has been no major probe on the crackdown itself, and activists have wanted those directly responsible for the raid to be punished.

“We local residents have filed a petition in court suing President Thein Sein for failure to reveal the officials who ordered the crackdown on Nov. 29,” University Students Network activist Thaung Htike told RFA’s Burmese Service.

“Ma Yi Win and Ma Win Win Htay from Saete village, and Ko Zaw Naing from Ale village have filed the petition as representatives of residents from Letpadaung,” he said.

“Khin Khin Swe, Sarlingyi court’s judge, accepted the petition, saying that she will study it and respond to the complainants about whether the court will accept it or not.”

Report expected

Activists have also questioned the sluggish response from the parliamentary commission and its refusal to investigate the November crackdown, staging a hunger strike at the mine site last week.

On Monday Khin San Hlaing, a member of parliament from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party who is also part of the Letpadaung Inquiry Commission, told reporters that a full report would be released to Thein Sein upon his return from an official trip to Europe later this week.

“We will submit the report to the president as soon as he gets back from his Europe trip,” she said, adding that the report would be released to public soon after.

“I expect that the people will be satisfied by our findings.”

The commission announced last month that its full report was still being compiled after a provisional report had been submitted to Thein Sein. It was previously reported that the report would be released on Dec. 31 and then on Jan. 31.

Khin San Hlaing said that the commission would not make a recommendation on whether the authorities should allow the mine project to continue but only release findings as to its feasibility.

“As we have said before, we will not say whether to stop the project or not. We won’t decide if it is right or wrong, we will only tell the public what we have found,” she said.

“The decision makers are the government and other authorities. We are taking the responsibility to inquire, not to decide what to do.”

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

Reported by Zin Mar Win and Win Naung Toe for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.