Villagers against a Chinese-backed copper mine in northern Burma have launched a signature campaign to highlight their plight to the United Nations as they continue to stage protests against the controversial project, activists said Monday.
People living in 20 villages around the site of the Letpadaung copper mine project at Salingyi township in northern Burma's Sagaing division are placing their signatures on a petition calling on the world body to ask the government to stop the project, which they say is polluting the area and occupies land confiscated from them.
The signature campaign came as protests calling for an end to the project resumed again last week after an independent report accused Burmese security forces of using "excessive force" to suppress a mass demonstration at the mine site on Nov. 29 in which more than 100 people, mostly monks, were injured.
The report jointly compiled by the Upper Burma Lawyers’ Network and the U.S.-based Justice Trust, an activist group, alleged that security forces used white phosphorus in the predawn bloody crackdown, the toughest clampdown on demonstrators since a reformist government came to power in March 2011.
Highly flammable white phosphorous can be used legally in some battlefield conditions but should not be deployed against civilians, activists say.
"We are going to send the local people's signatures to the U.N. to stop the Letpadaung copper mine project," said student leader Thaung Htike, among activists helping villagers convey their grievances over the project to the authorities.
"If they don't stop it, the authorities may get a fiercer response from the local people," he told RFA's Burmese Service.
Following the crackdown, the government set up a parliamentary 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 had wanted those directly responsible for the raid to be punished.
Aung San Suu Kyi called for patience as the commission continues working on its recommendations.
"We have to wait for the commission's report. I am not going to discuss the report before the inquiry commission releases it," she told reporters during a break in a parliamentary meeting.
She refused to directly respond to the charges contained in the independent report by the Upper Burma Lawyers’ Network and the Justice Trust on the crackdown.
"Only they (the two organizations) would know what facts their charges are based on. They are not the ones the government appointed to carry out the inquiry," she said.
The commission announced a week ago that its full report is still being compiled after a provisional report was submitted to President Thein Sein.
It was previously reported that the report would be released on Dec. 31 and then on Jan. 31.
The commission had recently met several monks who were among those wounded in the protest crackdown.
Reported by Yadanar Oo and Win Naung Toe. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.