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Myanmar probe finds phosphorus used in crackdown
by Staff Writers
Yangon (AFP) March 12, 2013

Myanmar's Suu Kyi defends protest-hit mine project
Monywa, Myanmar (AFP) March 13, 2013 - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged protesters Wednesday to accept a controversial Chinese-backed mine that was the scene of a violent crackdown last year, or risk hurting the economy.

The Nobel laureate, visiting villages near the mine in Monywa, northern Myanmar, said local people and the wider economy would suffer if the project was stopped, despite fears about the environment and land grabbing.

A parliamentary report overseen by Suu Kyi -- released on Tuesday -- said police used phosphorus against demonstrators at the mine last year in the harshest crackdown on protesters since the end of military rule.

However, the probe into the November clampdown, which left dozens wounded including monks, recommended the mine project should not be scrapped, despite conceding it only brought "slight" benefits to the nation.

"If we stop this project, it will not benefit local people or the country," Suu Kyi told around 200-300 villagers on Wednesday, many of whom apparently had yet to hear the probe's findings.

"The other country (China) might think that our country cannot be trusted on the economy," she added. "We have to get along with the neighbouring country whether we like it or not."

Since decades of brutal junta rule ended two years ago, Myanmar has seen protests against land grabbing as disgruntled rural people test the boundaries of their freedom to demonstrate under a reform-minded government.

Chinese-backed projects to tap the nation's abundant natural resources have sparked particular resentment.

The Monywa mine dispute echoes fierce opposition to a Chinese-backed mega-dam which was suspended in September 2011 after a public outcry.

Many defiant local residents want the mine -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding -- to be shut down.

"We absolutely cannot accept the destruction of our village," said Soe Tint, 43, a farmer from Se Te village near the mine where a protest camp has been erected.

"We will continue to hold the protest camp until they close down the project," he told AFP.

Speaking at a second village where the crowd had swollen to around 500 people Suu Kyi urged those unhappy with her report to "protest at my house".

Myanmar police used phosphorus in a crackdown on a rally against a copper mine last year, injuring dozens of protesters including monks, a parliamentary report led by Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday.

The probe on the November clampdown, the most violent since the reformist regime took power in early 2011, called for reform of authorities' riot control methods after more than 100 people were hurt.

Injuries sustained by monks and civilians caused a wave of outrage across Myanmar, sparking further protests and leading to an official apology to senior clerics.

The report found "unexpected and unnecessary burns" were inflicted as "the police used smoke bombs without knowing what their effect would be", adding that the devices contained phosphorus, which "can cause fire when they explode".

However, the report led by the opposition leader backed continued work at the controversial Chinese-backed mine in Monywa, northern Myanmar, despite conceding that it only brought "slight" benefits to the country.

The recommendation is likely to anger local people who have mounted fierce opposition to the project -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding -- over environmental concerns and allegations of land-grabbing.

Suu Kyi is due Wednesday to visit the mine and a number of nearby villages and "might spend a night in Monywa town to meet with local people there", a member of her security staff told AFP, requesting anonymity.

Following the report's release the government announced Tuesday that a committee had been formed to implement its recommendations, with the panel to include the home affairs, mining and environmental conservation ministers.

Myanmar, ruled for decades by a brutal junta, has recently seen waves of protest against land grabbing across the country as disgruntled rural people test the new government's proclaimed commitment to freedom of expression.

Chinese-backed projects to tap the nation's abundant natural resources have sparked particular resentment.

The report, which was delivered to Myanmar's reformist president on Monday, said the protests were a result of "poor transparency" from local officials, adding that the compensation offered for land "was not at market value".

It recommended several measures be undertaken at the mine, which has been suspended since the crackdown because of continuing local opposition.

These include an increase in compensation for land in line with market value, the carrying out of environmental and social impact assessments and finding ways to create local employment.

It said the mine had appropriated more land than was needed and should return some of it to local people.

Suu Kyi's parliamentary investigation found that the mine operators would no longer be paying the government the full contractual 16.8 percent of production profits, as an eight percent commercial tax had since been axed.

The scrapping of the tax leaves Myanmar to collect just 8.8 percent of the operation's profit.

"This massive project is beneficial to the country even though the benefit is slight," the report said.

The committee responsible for carrying out the probe included a representative from the national human rights commission and civil servants from government ministries including mining, agriculture, defence and home affairs.

Myanmar in February dismissed an independent report by a network of lawyers that alleged security forces had used white phosphorus in the crackdown.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said at the time that the government would only recognise the parliamentary probe.


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