Riot police move in to end Myanmar copper mine protest

Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:47pm EST
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By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Riot police fired water cannon and tear gas early on Thursday to break up a three-month protest against a vast copper mining project run by the powerful Myanmar military and its partner, a subsidiary of a Chinese arms manufacturer.

After decades of oppression, the Monywa mine has become a test of Myanmar's commitment to reform as protesters probe new-found freedoms, including a relaxation of laws on protests that took effect in July.

It also illustrates growing resentment towards Chinese companies that have expanded in recent years across the country.

Witnesses said truckloads of police arrived at camps near the mine in the Sagaing region in Myanmar's northwest, where thousands have demonstrated against a $1 billion expansion of the project, which they say has caused the unlawful confiscation of more than 7,800 acres of land.

Shin Oattama, a Buddhist monk who had helped the villagers, told Reuters by telephone security forces began to use water cannon and other weapons at about 3 a.m., wounding 10 monks, two of them critically.

"They shot some sort of canisters that caused fire at the camp. We just don't know what sort of weapon it was," he said. "We are now seeking refuge at a nearby village. There's no ambulance, no doctor to take care of the injured," he said.

Land disputes are a growing problem in Myanmar. Protests were suppressed quickly under a military junta in place until last year but have become more common as President Thein Sein opens up the country, also known as Burma, and pushes through reforms.

"This is an example of the skin-deep nature of Burma's reforms," said Mark Farmaner of the London-based advocacy group Burma Campaign UK.   Continued...