Limits of 'new' Burma tested after protest ends in violence

Villagers and monks injured after police break up demonstration at mine using smoke bombs

Dozens of monks and villagers suffered burns and other injuries after Burmese police used water cannons and smoke bombs to break up a protest at the site of a huge copper mine partly owned by the military.

In scenes that activists say highlight how democratic reforms in Burma have only gone so far, police moved in early yesterday morning to force out the demonstrators and end the three-month long protest.

Reports said truckloads of police arrived at six protest camps that had been established at the Letpadaung mine near in the north-west of the country. They then used water cannons and smoke bombs to disperse the protesters, a number of whom suffered bad burns from what the local media described as “phosphorous bombs”, though the government denied that such munitions were used.

“I didn’t expect to be treated like this, as we were peacefully protesting,” Aung Myint Htway, a peanut farmer whose face and body were covered with black patches of burned skin, told the Associated Press.

The Letpadaung mine is the largest in Burma and is operated jointly between China North Industries Corp, a weapons manufacturer, and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, owned by the Burmese military.

Thousands of local people and monks have been protesting against the $1bn expansion of the project, which they say will cause widespread environmental damage, create health problems for villagers and involve the illegal confiscation of almost 8,000 acres of land. Moe Htet Nay, of the All Burma Federation of Students Union, said last night: “The project will destroy many villages. It will also have lots of side-effects on people’s health.”

Clashes over land disputes have become increasingly common in Burma. Protests were suppressed under the military that controlled the country until last year but have become more frequent under the government of President Thein Sein, as he has embarked on a series of reforms.

Indeed, the protests have been watched as something of a test case for how much freedom the government is willing to give to demonstrators, having passed new legislation permitting such opposition in July. “It’s clear that Burma’s right to protest law is no such thing,” said Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK. “The arrests are yet another example of the skin-deep nature of Burma’s reform process.”

Matthew Smith, of Human Rights Watch, said communities around the mine had endured problems for many years, among them environmental issues and claims over the unfair manner in which land was acquired. “This is yet another crackdown on a demonstration that challenges military interests, all in the so-called age of reform,” he added.

The opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited the area yesterday on a trip that had been arranged before the authorities moved in. Speaking before a crowd of 10,000 people, she offered to mediate between the two sides. I would like to ask the people to co-operate with patience,” she said.

The relationship between China and Burma is often tense, despite a perception in the West that the two countries are close allies. Many in Burma feel that China exerts too much influence.

Last year, the government suspended work on the Chinese-backed Myitsone hydro-power dam project in the northern state of Kachin following protests from local people.

According to the Irrawaddy website, the government does not want to offend Beijing again and reported that Aung Min, a government minister who is a close ally of the president, visited the site of the copper mine and admitted: “We are afraid of China. So we don’t dare to have a row with China.”


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London