Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Suu Kyi and villagers in mine clash

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi greets villagers as she visits Sae-Tae village near the Letpadaung copper mine project (AP)

Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi encountered rare public scorn while trying to justify an official report backing the continued operation of a copper mine which was the scene of a brutal police crackdown.

Ms Suu Kyi talked to protesters and mine chiefs in the country's north-western township of Monywa about the report of a commission she led to investigate the Letpadaung mine's operations and a police operation last November that badly injured scores of protesters.

The report, made public on Tuesday, said honouring 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 criticised police, despite the injuries caused to protesters, mostly Buddhist monks, by the use of incendiary smoke bombs.

More than 700 protesters shouted condemnation of the report as Ms Suu Kyi's motorcade passed between visits to four 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 Ms Suu Kyi's car came closer.

Burma Economic Holding, a military-controlled holding company, is the local joint venture party in the mine.

Ms Suu Kyi's endorsement of the commission's findings could erode some of the 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 Ms 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 hardcore 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.

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