Monks Stage Nationwide Protest

Burmese monks demand a full official apology to victims of a police raid at a copper mine.

apology-protest-305.jpg Buddhist monks stage a protest in Mandalay, Dec. 12, 2012.

Hundreds of monks led demonstrations in nine Burmese cities and towns on Wednesday calling for further government apology to victims of a crackdown on protesters at a controversial copper mine in northwestern Burma.

Thousands of laypeople joined the protests in Mandalay, Rangoon, Monywa, Pakokku, Kalay, Sittwe, Chaut, Wakema, and Pathein, in a show of solidarity with those injured in the Nov. 29 police raid on protest camps at the Letpadaung mining project in northern Burma’s Sagaing division.

At the largest demonstration in northern Burma’s Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, over 1,000 Buddhist monks and supporters called on President Thein Sein to order authorities to apologize to crackdown victims. 

The monks said the government had failed to meet the deadline of 12:00 p.m. on Dec. 12, 2012 to respond to their demands.

“We are protesting peacefully and are calling for an apology from the authorities. Police disrupted protesters on purpose in a violent crackdown while demonstrators were protesting peacefully at the copper mine,” said Thawbita, a senior monk in Mandalay.

“We also urge the authorities not to carry out this kind of violence again. People don’t like violence against monks.”

The monks are also calling for authorities to take legal action against authorities responsible for using violence in the crackdown.

Another of their demands is the unconditional release of all activists held over protests across the country against the copper mine, including six released on bail yesterday who are facing charges for inciting public unrest.

Religious Affairs Minister Myint Maung told senior monastic leaders last week that the incident—in which over 100 people, mostly monks, suffered burns and other injuries—was of “great grief” to the government.

His statement followed an earlier apology by police in the days after the crackdown, but monks say these statements have not gone far enough and they want authorities to apologize directly to those injured.

Activists have said the burns suffered by protesters were caused by incendiary devices, while the government has said only smoke bombs, water cannons, and tear gas had been used to disperse those at the mine site.

Nationwide protests

In the former capital Rangoon, where the monk-led Saffron Revolution movement sparked a brutal crackdown in 2007, some 300 monks and student activists protested amid a heavy police presence.

Protesters read sermons and marched near the Shwedagon Pagoda holding signs that said, “Stop the violence against monks.” 

Photos of burns sustained by monks posted online in the aftermath of the crackdown prompted an online outcry in the Buddhist-majority country, where monks are accorded a high level of respect.

In Sittwe in western Burma’s Rakhine state, monks held a public religious ceremony for monks and others injured in the crackdown.

“This is a ceremony in which we show our sympathy for the monks and people who were injured during the violent crackdown by police in the Letpadaung mountains, and in which we pray for their health and their trauma to be healed,” senior monk Nyarna said.

Ninety-nine monks and 11 lay people were injured in the crackdown, authorities have said.

At least five monks remain in need of further treatment, monks in Mandalay said.

One of five severely injured monks at the city’s hospital has received permission for medical treatment in Bangkok, Thailand, but the other four have been denied, according to Thawbita, the same senior monk involved in organizing the Mandalay protests.

“We discussed this with the head doctor, and he told us not to speak with him about it again.”

“We told the Minister of Religious Affairs [Maung Myint] about this as well, and he said that this is not his responsibility,” he said, adding that he does not know what will happen to the other four monks.

One of them has a high fever and the wounds on his leg are worsening, and another has severely injured his back, he said.

“I told the minister about this, but he said this is not his business,” Thawbita said.

The government has formed a commission to look into the future of the mine, but the crackdown is not in the scope of its inquiry.

The project is a joint venture between the Burmese military’s Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. and Wan Bao Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer North China Industries Corp. (Norinco).

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

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

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