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Suu Kyi meets more anger over Myanmar mine.


MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — With rare hostility, villagers sharply criticized opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday as she traveled in northwestern Myanmar to explain why she supports a mining project opposed by many local residents.

Suu Kyi failed to persuade the villagers to accept the findings of an official panel she headed that the Letpadaung copper mine should be allowed to continue operating to encourage foreign investors to help the lagging economy.

At one point, residents barricaded their village in Monywa township with thorny brush and only allowed Suu Kyi to enter after she had shed some of her police escort and accompanying journalists.

The unwelcome reception was virtually unprecedented for the much-honored heroine of the country’s pro-democracy movement. In the past, mobs organized by the military had tried to intimidate her, but most of her countrymen regarded her practically as a saint.

Suu Kyi’s responsibilities have become more complicated now that her National League for Democracy party is no longer an embattled David fighting the Goliath of a military government, and instead is a competitor in the electoral politics of a fledgling democracy.

Last weekend, her party began a restructuring process for a 2015 general election in which Suu Kyi will face opposition from the army-backed party of President Thein Sein on one flank, and from hard-core anti-military activists on the other.

One of Suu Kyi’s closest lieutenants, veteran journalist Win Tin, said she should heed the feelings ofMonywa’s residents, and that her failure to do so spurred anger and opposition.

Suu Kyi “may have her own good intentions, but she has failed to listen to the sentiments of the villagers,” said Win Tin, 86, a co-founder of her party who like Suu Kyi was detained for years for his political work. “Money cannot always appease the people, because sometimes it is their pride and love for their hometown that will prevail over money.”

The villagers in the Monywa area would once have been Suu Kyi’s natural constituency — downtrodden farming people tired of oppressive military rule that failed to deliver prosperity. And not all the villagers were disenchanted Thursday. After a day of confrontations, as she arrived at the Monywa hotel where she was staying, a crowd of about 100 people greeted her with flowers, shouting, “We support you.”

But the day — the second of her tour — had been a rough one for her.

Suu Kyi’s panel concluded that honoring the mine contract was necessary, both to keep good relations with China because of the mine’s Chinese joint venture partner, and to maintain the confidence of foreign investors whose help is needed to power economic growth.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997 million deal, signed in May 2010, lacked transparency because it did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny under the previous military regime. They say the mine causes social and environmental problems and desecrates their mountain landscape.

Suu Kyi failed to change the minds of many villagers, who were also upset that her commission made little criticism of police who broke up an anti-mine protest in November using smoke bombs containing white phosphorous that severely burned scores of protesters, mostly Buddhist monks.

In its report made public Tuesday, the commission faulted police for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that they receive riot-control training, but failed to hold any officials accountable.

At Hsede village, a hotbed of opposition to the mine where villagers set up barricades of thorny brush, Suu Kyi spent more than an hour talking with angry protesters but failed to win them over.

Many villagers ran after her motorcade as it left, shouting, “Stop the project.”

She encountered more anger at Tone village, where hundreds of furious residents shouted, “We want our Letpadaung mountain.” In tears, women blamed Suu Kyi for the recommendation to continue the project and expressed regret for supporting her, saying they had harbored high hopes that her commission would call for the mine’s closure.

Suu Kyi tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd by explaining the potential benefits.

“Whether she can upgrade our living standard or not, we want our mountain. Even if they give many jobs to us, we don’t want to be the servants of the Chinese,” said Nyo Lay, referring to the mine’s operators. “They took our land and will earn a lot. It’s hurtful that the money they give to us is from what they get from our own land.”

She said she lost her 10-acre (4-hectare) plot to the project, and now is a farm worker, earning less than a dollar a day.

Before leaving Monywa, Suu Kyi reflected on the villagers’ reaction, saying it was not a matter of whether they made her feel bad.

“They want me to do what they want. I simply said no,” she told reporters. “Anyone engaged in politics should have the courage to face animosity. It is not right to engage in politics to win popularity.”


By YADANA HTUN | Associated Press

Myanmar villagers unhappy that Suu Kyi backs mine.

  • Protesting villagers march and shout slogans as they stage a rally against a recent report on Letpataung copper mine project by investigation commission, in Monywa township, 760 kilometers (450 miles) north of Yangon, central Myanmar, Wednesday, March 13, 2013. Opponents of a nearly $1 billion copper mine in northwestern Myanmar expressed outrage Tuesday over the government-ordered report that said the project should continue and that refrained from demanding punishment for police involved in a violent crackdown on protesters. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

    View PhotoAssociated Press/Khin Maung Win – Protesting villagers march and shout slogans as they stage a rally against a recent report on Letpataung copper mine project by investigation commission, in Monywa township, …more 


MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyimet with rare public scorn while trying to justify an official report endorsing continued operation of a copper mine in northwestern Myanmar opposed by many local residents.

Suu Kyi talked with protesters in Monywa township and with mine officials Wednesday about the report of a commission she led to investigate the Letpadaung mine’s operations and a police crackdown last November that badly injured scores of protesters.

The report, made public Tuesday, said honoring the mining contract with a Chinese joint venture outweighed villagers’ demands that mining operations be halted because of alleged social and environmental problems. It only mildly criticized police, despite the injuries caused to protesters, mostly Buddhist monks, by the use of incendiary smoke bombs.

More than 700 protesters shouted denunciations of the report as Suu Kyi’s motorcade passed between visits to four local villages.

Raising their fists in the air, protesters yelled, “We don’t want the commission” and “To stop the Letpadaung copper project is our duty,” shouting louder as Suu Kyi’s car came closer.

Sandar, a protester from Alaltaw village, said the report neglected the troubles the mine caused local residents.

“We feel that Mother Suu doesn’t have sympathy for us. We are fighting for the truth,” she said, calling Suu Kyi by a term used by her supporters.

“We are not clear whether she made this decision because she is afraid of the military company or because she doesn’t love us. We want her to know that we are not protesting out of idleness,” she said. Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd., a military-controlled holding company, is the local joint ventureparty in the mine.

Suu Kyi’s endorsement of the commission’s findings could erode some of the deep and wide support she has enjoyed for more than two decades as she spearheaded the democratic opposition to the repressive former military government. A nominally civilian elected government took power in 2011, and Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party contested by-elections last year, giving her a seat in parliament.

As her party has agreed to play by parliamentary rules — in effect endorsing the army-backed government’s reform efforts — there is an opening for more hard-core anti-military activists to win over a share of disaffected voters who prefer a quicker pace of change than allowed under the army-dictated constitution. The next general election is in 2015.

Protesters say the mine, a joint venture with China’s Wan Bao mining company, causes environmental, social and health problems and should be shut down.

The report said the operation should not be halted but acknowledged that the mine lacked strong environmental protection measures and would not create more jobs for local people. It said scrapping the mine could create tension with China and could discourage badly needed foreign investment.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997 million joint venture deal, signed in May 2010, did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny because it was concluded under the previous military regime.

Many in Myanmar remain suspicious of the military and regard China as an aggressive and exploitative investor that helped support military rule.

The commission faulted the police force for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that police receive riot-control training, but failed to hold any official accountable.

Suu Kyi held question-and-answer sessions with villagers and met with executives from the mining company.

She told villagers that if they wanted to protest the report’s findings, they should demonstrate at her home, not at the mining company. Emphasizing the rule of law, she said any such protest must follow the law requiring prior permission, otherwise police would be summoned.

She said her commission considered three options for the mine: to continue, to stop or to continue with changes. The commission recommended the third way.

“If we stopped it completely, where would we get money to heal the current environmental destruction? The shutdown of the mine is not beneficial for locals. If we break the agreement made with another country, the countries of the world will suppose that Myanmar is financially unreliable,” Suu Kyi said.

Several villagers said they rejected Suu Kyi’s position. At a protest camp a short distance from the mining company’s offices, Nyein, 49, said demonstrators would fight until death to recover mountain land taken over for the mine. She was forced to relinquish her four-acre plot three years ago to make way for the project.

“What we want is to stop the project completely,” she said. “Our great forefathers could protect the mountains that sustained us even when we fell under the rule of the Japanese and the British. Why are they being totally lost when we are ruling our own land?”


By YADANA HTUN | Associated Press

Suu Kyi selected to remain Myanmar opposition head.


  • Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the second day session of first ever congress of her National League for Democracy party at Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Suu Kyi has been elected head of the new executive board of Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy, as the party has a makeover to adjust itself to the country's new democratic framework. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)View PhotoMyanmar’s opposition leader Aung …
  • Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the second day session of first ever congress of her National League for Democracy party at Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, March 10, 2013. Suu Kyi has been elected head of the new executive board of Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy, as the party has a makeover to adjust itself to the country's new democratic framework. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)View PhotoMyanmar’s opposition leader Aung …

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi was selected Sunday to continue as head of Myanmar’s main opposition party, keeping her leadership post even as the party undergoes a makeover to adjust to the country’s new democratic framework.

The Nobel laureate was named chairwoman of the National League for Democracy’s new executive board on the final day of a landmark three-day party congress attended by 894 delegates from around the country.

The congress also expanded the group’s Central Executive Committee from seven members to 15, in a revitalization and reform effort ahead of Myanmar’s 2015 general election. The party is seeking to infuse its ranks with new faces, expertise and diversity without sidelining long-standing members.

“We have to see how effectively and efficiently the new leaders can perform their duties,” said Suu Kyi, who has led the NLD since its inception in 1988. “We hope they will learn through experience.”

Suu Kyi’s selection had been assured, since she is the party’s main drawing card. But her dominant influence has also drawn criticism that the party may be too reliant on her charisma.

Asked about allegations by critics that her party leans toward an authoritarian structure, she said Sunday that “all our leaders have been elected democratically. So if they feel that they do not like authoritarian leadership, they should not vote for those whom they think are authoritarian.”

Suu Kyi conceded that there has been some friction in the party’s current transformation process, with complaints surfacing about lack of transparency and fairness in the election of local leaders in the run-up to the congress. Four party members who had been elected to attend the congress were suspended just two days before it opened Friday over allegations of illegal lobbying.

Suu Kyi is the sole holdover from the party’s original executive board when it was founded, but the other new members are also mostly long-serving party loyalists, disappointing some who were looking for new blood. A broader Central Committee of 120 members was elected by the delegates and endorsed the executive board, which was given five reserve members.

The party, which came into being as the army was crushing a mass pro-democracy uprising in 1988, won a 1990 general election that was nullified by the then-ruling military. The NLD boycotted a 2010 general election, but after a military-backed elected government took office in 2011 and instituted democratic reforms, it contested by-elections in 2012, winning 43 of 44 seats and putting Suu Kyi into parliament.

Emerging from repression that limited its actions — not least because Suu Kyi and other senior NLD members spent years under detention — Suu Kyi vowed in her opening speech Saturday to inject the party with “new blood” and decentralize decision-making.

She said the NLD would go through an experimental stage with the new leadership and should anticipate some obstacles but “not be discouraged.”

Although the 2012 by-election results showed that the NLD still has broad and deep appeal, the party faces challenges.

The army-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party of President Thein Sein, besides being well-financed and enjoying the benefits of controlling the bureaucracy, has staked out a position as reformist.

It can boast of freeing the press, releasing most of the country’s political prisoners and convincing foreign nations to lift most economic sanctions they had imposed against the former military regime for its poor human rights record. It hopes that opening up Myanmar, also known as Burma, to foreign investment will kick-start a moribund economy and win it popular appeal.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the NLD’s agreement to play by parliamentary rules — in effect endorsing Thein Sein’s reform efforts — leaves an opening for more hard-core anti-military activists to win over a share of disaffected voters who prefer a quicker pace of change than now allowed under the army-dictated constitution.

Speaking to the party meeting after her selection as chairwoman on Sunday, Suu Kyi said that in choosing executive board members there was an effort to include women, members of ethnic minorities and younger people, in addition to members with a record of continuous party service. Four women and several ethnic minority members are on the new board.

Suu Kyi acknowledged to reporters that younger members were underrepresented on the Central Executive Committee compared to the bigger Central Committee.

“We need experienced members who know the policies, tradition and history of the party and who had been in the party for the last 25 years,” said Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest. “After some time, the younger generation will take over their place. There should be connectivity between the past, present and future.”

Suu Kyi’s colleagues expressed satisfaction with the meeting’s results.

“The new CEC and Central Committee members will enjoy the trust of the majority because we are elected democratically. I believe we will be able to carry out our work more effectively,” May Win Myint, a veteran NLD member jailed many times for her activities, said after being elected to the executive board.

Kyi Phyu Shin, a well-known film director who became an NLD member six months ago and was elected to the Central Committee, said she was “very confident that the NLD will become a tight organization, very active and competitive. The congress helps institute better democratic practices in the NLD.”


By AYE AYE WIN | Associated Press

Myanmar must face up to junta crimes, U.N. envoy says.

GENEVA (Reuters) – Myanmar must pursue crimes committed by the former junta but neither the quasi-civilian government nor opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi have any appetite to do so for now, a United Nations investigator said on Friday.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said accountability for decades of violations was crucial for healing as well as for solidifying reforms.

The military regime stands accused of having used forced labor, suppressing ethnic minorities and killings and torture by its troops and police.

Ojea Quintana, asked about prospects of a truth commission or prosecutions, said: “The reality is that in Myanmar, this is not on the agenda of any of the stakeholders. It’s not on the government agenda, it’s not on the other political parties agenda and it’s not on the ethnic minority groups agenda.”

The independent U.N. investigator, speaking to a news briefing in Geneva, held talks with senior officials in Myanmar as well as Suu Kyi during his latest visit last month.

Suu Kyi’s inexperienced party began its first congress on Friday aiming to push forward positions that will become increasingly important in the run-up to a 2015 election that could sweep it into government.

On Thursday, Ojea Quintana said in an annual report that the crisis in Rakhine state, where sectarian violence erupted last year, risks spreading and endangering democratic reforms undertaken since military rule ended in 2011.

The government of President Thein Sein, a former junta general, has international obligations to face “serious crimes and systematic human rights abuses“, he said.

“But in Myanmar there is not any possibility at this moment to start even a discussion on this. I think that there is a religious component in the middle as well, in terms of believing in forgiveness and looking to the future and not into the past,” he said, referring to the majority Buddhist country.


Noting that his native Argentina had emerged from a military dictatorship in the 1980s, Ojea Quintana said:

“I really believe that at some point there will be a need for healing of what happened in the past … We need to keep sending the message that this is also very important for any transition to become successful to learn from the past.

“To learn from the past you need to understand what happened and not just to act as if nothing had happened in Myanmar that had a military regime for more than 40 years.”

Ojea Quintana said Myanmar was lobbying member states of the U.N. Human Rights Council to end his mandate, which currently goes to May 2014. He felt continuing scrutiny was needed.

Foreign investors seeking opportunities in mineral-rich Myanmar should ensure their operations have a positive impact, ranging from ensuring workers’ rights to avoiding “land grabs”.

“The international community is now facing a kind of tension between two kinds of interests. There is a strong interest in economics and lots of countries all over the world right now want to start doing business with Myanmar. We welcome that because it might bring development,” he said.

“At the same time, the international community needs to follow U.N principles on human rights, to remember human rights are at the core of any transition, development and economic process.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Sophie Hares)


By Stephanie Nebehay | Reuters

In Myanmar, answers to ethnic conflict elusive.


LAWA YANG, Myanmar (AP) — Kneeling beside a line of freshly dug trenches carved like one long, open wound into a lush hillside, the rebel sergeant peered through dusty binoculars at all his troops had lost.

Scattered across the sprawling valley below, a dozen thatched-roof homes stood quiet, abandoned by fleeing villagers as government forces drew near. Towering above: four forested mountain ridges seized by Myanmar’s army after some of the bloodiest clashes here in decades — so fierce the ethnic Kachin guerrillas who survived said the artillery fire came down like rain.

If the Kachin Independence Army, the last armed insurgent group still at war in Myanmar, loses just one more mountain ridge, there will be little to stop government forces from taking their stronghold on the Chinese border. They are ill-equipped — some rebels wear helmets made only of hardened plastic and admit running low on ammunition — but they remain defiant.

“We’re very vulnerable because the army now holds the high ground,” rebel Sgt. Brang Shawng said as he scanned the new front line at Lawa Yang, where his unit retreated last month.

But he added: “We will never give up. For us, this is a fight for self-determination, and I’ll keep fighting for it until I die.”

Government soldiers, bolstered for the first time by screeching fighter jets and helicopter gunships that pounded the hills for weeks, advanced late last month to within just a few kilometers (miles) of the rebel headquarters town of Laiza, the closest they have ever come.

The region has been relatively calm since, but even so, the dramatic upsurge in fighting underscores how far Myanmar is from achieving one of the things it needs most — a political settlement to end not just the war with the Kachin, but decades-long conflicts with more than a dozen other rebel armies that have plagued the country for decades and still threaten its future.

Much is at stake for this Southeast Asian nation, which has stunned the world by opening politically and economically over the last two years following five decades of military rule. President Thein Sein’s government rose to power in 2011 following elections that rights groups said were neither free nor fair, but it has since ushered in reforms, freed political prisoners and allowed opposition leaderAung San Suu Kyi and her supporters to be elected to parliament.

Still, Myanmar has yet to resolve a multitude of conflicts with its ethnic minorities, which make up about 40 percent of the population. Their persistent push for political autonomy has turned vast patchworks of territory along the borders with China and Thailand into rebel fiefdoms rich in jade, timber, gold and opium.

In Kachin state alone, the control of which is split between rebels and the government, resource-hungry China has invested billions of dollars in hydroelectric dams. A Chinese-backed pipeline project is due to begin pumping oil and gas from the Bay of Bengal in May, and more development projects are planned, including highways and railways that would link Indian Ocean seaports with the rest of Southeast Asia. Most of them cross rebel zones.

Thein Sein’s administration has signed truce deals with 18 armed groups — everyone except the Kachin, according to Min Zaw Oo, who heads cease-fire negotiations at the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-appointed body that is coordinating peace talks.

Most of those truces had already been negotiated with the former junta, but the nation’s former military rulers “never accepted the need for a political settlement,” Min Zaw Oo said.

Thein Sein’s administration, by contrast, realizes a cease-fire alone is not sufficient, he said. “This government sees dialogue as key. It is ready to talk. That’s a major policy distinction.”

Min Zaw Oo said he believes Myanmar has the best chance in 60 years of ending the country’s ethnic conflicts. But he acknowledged that “practically, there are a lot of obstacles in the way.”

Distrust runs deep, and even the truces remain fragile. The army and rebels in eastern Shan state, for example, have clashed at least 44 times since agreeing a cease-fire last year, Min Zaw Oo said.

In Kachin state, there has been speculation the government was trying to strengthen its hand at negotiations by escalating the war to new heights with airstrikes. But rebel Col. Zaw Taung, director of strategic analysis for the Kachin Independence Army, said the skirmishes only pushed the two sides further apart.

“They say they want peace, but they just threw everything they have against us,” he said. “With one hand they’re trying to burn us, with the other, they’re trying douse us with water. They cannot be trusted.”

The army, like the rebels, insists it fought only in self-defense.

On Wednesday, government envoys resumed talks in the Thai city of Chiang Mai with the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic militias, including the Kachin, that banded together last year. Few expected any breakthroughs, and no cease-fire was reached with the Kachin, which have met the government more than a dozen times since war in the north reignited in 2011.

The talks are “only about the framework of future discussions,” said Hkun Okker, a senior alliance member. “We’re demanding a political dialogue, and the government agrees, but real dialogue hasn’t started.”

Last week, Thein Sein acknowledged that his country’s history of ethnic conflict has been a major barrier to progress, and that achieving stability is crucial as it pursues a democratic future.

His words, though, were delivered on an occasion infused with bitter irony: Union Day, which commemorates the 1947 deal between Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, and ethnic leaders to break away from Britain’s colonial arms together.

The so-called Panglong agreement also granted ethnic minorities autonomy, but it fell apart after the assassination of Aung San.

The Kachin, who are predominantly Christian in a majority Buddhist country, first took up arms in 1961. A 1994 truce with the army lasted 17 years, but during that time, rebel demands for rights and a federalist system were never addressed.

Instead, the junta in 2008 forced through a new constitution. The nation’s minorities say it places enormous power in the hands of the central government and the military, which rights groups say has orchestrated a campaign of discrimination, forced labor and abuse against the Kachin and other groups for decades. The constitution can be amended only with approval of the armed forces, which even now control 25 percent of parliament.

Tensions rose further in 2009, when the junta tried to persuade ethnic armies to join a new border guard force. Most, including the Kachin, refused.

Two months after Thein Sein took office in 2011, the Kachin truce finally broke down when the army bolstered its presence near a hydropower plant in Dapein that is a joint venture with a Chinese company, and rebels refused to abandon a strategic base nearby.

Since then, more than 100,000 Kachin civilians have been displaced, and the rebels have progressively lost territory, pressed closer and closer against the Chinese border.

Only one major mountain ridge now separates Laiza from Myanmar’s army, and a grim mood has settled over the town.

At the main cemetery, workers are erecting concrete tombstones for rebels who died in the latest fighting. At least 23 are buried here under mounds of red dirt, though rebel officials declined to say how many were killed altogether.

Every night, a single-file candlelight peace vigil organized by a Catholic priest snakes through Laiza’s darkened and nearly deserted streets. Shops are closed. Displaced people crowd camps perched on a rocky river that marks the border with China.

The rebels, clearly outgunned, say they will not even try to retake lost ground. There is talk of the rebels abandoning Laiza if need be, of shifting their headquarters to a secret location if the army makes a push for the town. Most of their offices on a hillside overlooking town already appear empty, and the rebels’ most senior leadership is no longer here.

“For a guerrilla army, what matters most is not holding ground, but maintaining the support of the people,” Zaw Taung said, speaking at a Laiza hotel the rebels use as an office that is decorated with wall-to-wall maps.

Judging by comments from many Kachin, across many levels of society, they overwhelmingly support the rebels, whom they see as protectors and their legitimate government, perhaps now more than ever.

Asked why the rebels were the only armed group that has yet to sign a truce with the government, Zaw Taung was dismissive.

“We tried that for 17 years. What did it get us?” he asked. “The only thing that will end the war is a political solution. Without that, a truce means nothing. The fighting will go on.”


By TODD PITMAN | Associated Press

Myanmar protesters want justice for mine crackdown.

  • <p>               Aung Thein, a founding member of Myanmar Lawyers Network, talks during a press conference on the investigation about the Nov. 29 crackdown at Letpadaung copper mine in central Myanmar, Thursday, Feb.14, 2013, at Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar.  Activists in Myanmar are insisting that those responsible for breaking up the peaceful protest with a weapon that caused serious burns be held to account.  Lawyers and others who investigated the crackdown at the copper mine in northwestern Myanmar say President Thein Sein must share responsibility for the incident and ensure justice is done. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

    View PhotoAssociated Press –

    Aung Thein, a founding member of Myanmar Lawyers Network, talks during a press conference on the investigation about the Nov. 29 crackdown at Letpadaung …more 

Supporters of Myanmar mine protest demand punishment for use of incendiary weapon in crackdown

YANGON, Myanmar (AP)Activists in Myanmar demanded punishment Thursday for officials who were responsible for the use of incendiary weapons against peaceful protesters at a copper mine, resulting in serious burns for dozens of people including Buddhist monks.

Lawyers and others who investigated the Nov. 29 crackdown at the Letpadaung copper mine innorthwestern Myanmar told reporters that President Thein Sein must share responsibility and ensure justice is achieved.

Speaking at the launch of a report on the incident, they said police used shells containing white phosphorous, an incendiary munition, to disperse the protesters. White phosphorous can be used legally in some battlefield conditions, but activists say it should not be deployed against civilians.

Authorities have acknowledged using tear gas and smoke grenades.

The incident involved the biggest use of force against protesters in Myanmar since Thein Sein’s reformist government took office in March 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. His administration has been hailed for releasing hundreds of political prisoners and implementing laws allowing public demonstrations and labor strikes.

Protesters say the mine project, a joint venture between China‘s Wan Bao mining company — a subsidiary of NORINCO, a weapons manufacturer — and the military conglomerate Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd. — a military-owned holding company — causes environmental, social and health problems, and want it halted.

“The use of inherently dangerous military arms to disperse peaceful protesters, apparently by local police during a standard law enforcement procedure, is clearly unlawful and raises issues of liability for those directly involved and for senior responsible levels of command and control in the military and government and for senior executives/military officers at Wan Bao and UMEHL,” the report said.

It was compiled by Lawyers’ Network, an independent association of leading Myanmar lawyers, and Justice Trust, an international group engaged in supporting the rule of law and human rights.

Thwe Thwe Win, an activist from a village near the mine, accused its operators of damaging residents’ land and livelihood.

“Everyone including President Thein Sein, the home minister, UMEHL and the Chinese Wan Bao company are responsible for the crackdown,” she said.

She said the villagers will not take further action until an official commission headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi issues its own report on the project and the crackdown. If it does not call for ending the project, they will resume protesting, she said.


By Aye Aye Win, Associated Press | Associated Press

Myanmar’s urgent human rights need: citizenship for ‘the Roma of Asia’.

Myanmar (Burma) has a long way to go on human rights. An issue that demands immediate attention is a crisis involving a sizable ethnic and religious group, the Rohingya – one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. This stateless people deserve citizenship and tolerance.

The move toward greater freedom and representative government in Myanmar (Burma) over the last few years is a welcome one. ButPresident Thein Sein and his associates in the military have a long way to go toward achieving democracy, human rights, and a market economy.

One area of human rights that demands immediate attention is a crisis involving a sizable ethnic and religious group, the Rohingya – one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, according to theUnited Nations.

OPINION: Obama and Myanmar (Burma): 4 points about ethnic conflict there

Imagine life as part of a society that lacks a formal national identity. Now picture that society, devoid of citizenship, being persecuted for having different religious beliefs than the surrounding ethnicities within the country – barred from owning land, traveling, or even attending school.

This is the life of nearly 800,000 people in state of Rakhine, in western Myanmar. They have been called the “the Roma of Asia.” Rendered stateless by the passage of the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya, who are Muslim, are heavily impoverished and lack economic development. Unclaimed by the Burmese, who view them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya are disenfranchised and vulnerable.

Tensions in Rakhine State between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities last June and October led to violent clashes and dozens of deaths. About 115,000 people were internally displaced, the vast majority of them Rohingya. Many of their homes were burned to the ground.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited displacement camps in Rakhine in December, observed: “People from both communities … are living in fear and want to go back to living a normal life. There is an urgent need for reconciliation.”

If these ethnic and religious clashes are truly “internal affairs of a sovereign state” as the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims, then now is the time for the government to exercise responsible sovereignty and encourage tolerance locally.

President Thein Sein has established a 27-member Internal Investigation Commission to identify the root causes of inter-communal unrest. Deplorably, not a single Rohingya sits on the commission.

Amb. Ufuk Gokcen, permanent observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the UN, exhorts Mr. Thein Sein to reach out to and talk with the Rohingya community. “Without a courageous political discourse and leadership on the part of the Government and opposition together, Government cannot initiate and sell to the nation an action to grant citizenship to Rohingya,” the ambassador says.

President Obama, too, has remarked on the unrest in Rakhine State. “For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution. But there’s no excuse for violence against innocent people, and the Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do,” he said at Yangon University in Myanmar on Nov. 19, during his historic visit to the country.

Granting citizenship to the nearly 800,000 Rohingya Muslims will accelerate Myanmar’s gradual increase in civil liberties and political freedom. Obtaining support from Buddhist monks would be key to gaining popular support for the change. Buddhists comprise almost 85 percent of Myanmar’s population. If the country’s Buddhist monks were to vocally support extending citizenship to Rohingya, then the stateless minority would have well-founded hope for recognition.

The United States has a role to play as well. Recent easing of US sanctions against Myanmar is a goodwill gesture to encourage democratization and comes partly at pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s request. Yet some human rights groups have too harshly criticized the move as premature. To its credit, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration assisted Rohingya refugees in Myanmar and neighboring countries with $24 million in aid in fiscal year 2012.

While this aid alleviates suffering, humanitarianism alone will not resolve the centuries-old ethnic and religious tension between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya. US diplomats in Myanmar should urge both Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein to work cooperatively toward granting the Rohingya citizenship and fostering religious and ethnic tolerance throughout Myanmar.

Today, Myanmar increasingly demonstrates more openness in reforms: Several political prisoners have been freed, peaceful demonstrations are allowed, and elections are held. However, the government is stalling on the Rohingya issue, their most pressing human rights concern.

OPINION: Could Myanmar (Burma) have Southeast Asia’s first ‘green’ president?

National reconciliation between majority Buddhists and minorities, including Christians and Muslims, cannot be a toothless political catchphrase. Reconciliation comes only through action, and the first action needed is to recognize 800,000 Muslim Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar.

Benjamin J. Hayford is working on his master’s in international affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.


By Benjamin J. Hayford | Christian Science Monitor

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