Myanmar: Monks protest government mine crackdown

Updated On: Dec 12, 2012

Buddhist monks held protests across Myanmar on Wednesday, taking to the streets of several towns and cities including Yangon, and calling for a government apology following police violence on November 29 which saw up to 100 injured as they demonstrated against the impacts of a copper mine.

Photographs of protestors injuries created a national outcry across the country, reminding the population of crackdowns undertaken by the country's former military regime.

Demonstrators were calling for the Monywa mine project to be suspended and impact assessments carried out, following allegations of mass evictions and environmental damage caused by the project.

The copper mine is run by a unit of China North Industries, a leading Chinese weapons manufacturer, under a deal signed in June 2010 after Canada's Ivanhoe Mines Ltd pulled out in 2007.

It is backed by the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), which operated with impunity under the military regime which ended its rule of the country in 2011, sparking widespread reforms.

As anger rose, Minister for Religious Affairs Thura Myint Maung issued an apology last Friday to 29 senior monks, saying that the government felt "extreme sorrow that monks and other people were wounded in the copper mine incident."

Protest leaders however were left unsatisfied, as the senior monks "did not represent the majority of monks". Instead, they have demanded a direct apology "to the to the injured monks or respected and revered abbots from the monasteries in the district where many of the injured monks were from."

Unlike on the 29th, Wednesday's march took place without security forces interfering.

In Yangon, nearly 400 monks accompanied by members of the public marched from the east gate of Yangon's famous Shwedagon pagoda to downtown City Hall, the same route  thousands of monks took in 2007, which was brutally supressed by the former military regime.

Land disputes are a growing problem in Myanmar. While previously suppressed quickly by the former government, they are now increasing in number following a wave of political and economic reforms that have liberalised the country.

Since the crackdown the government has formed a commission to investigate the incident, headed by democracy champion Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

She reportedly blamed a previous lack of transparency as the cause of the incident and will now lead an inquiry into the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters at the copper mine and advise whether the project should continue.

Report: Monks rally across Myanmar over mine crackdown (Bangkok Post, 12 November 2012)

Report: Rights Panel in Myanmar Challenged (WSJ, 11 December 2012)

Report: Myanmar monks protest to demand crackdown apology (Bloomburg, 12 December 2012)