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Locals living near a controversial Chinese-backed copper mine have blasted Aung San Suu Kyi’s highly anticipated report into the police crackdown on protestors last November for not ordering a complete halt to the project.
The commission’s findings, which warn against unilaterally cancelling the project but recommends addressing several contentious issues before restarting operations, has drawn ire from opponents of the mine.
“We are completely averse to the report published by the [Latpadaung] Investigation Commission because it said the project will continue,” said Arlawka from Chanmyaywadi Monastery near the controversial mine project.
“We only want the complete suspension of the project – this is what we have been demanding since the beginning.”
Latpadaung organiser and activist Thwe Thwe Win said the commission’s suggestions were unacceptable.
“We cannot accept it at all as it is our only aim to completely suspend the project,” said Thwe Thwe Win. “We only aim to stop this. They didn’t take any responsibility over the firebombing as well. We are very disappointed with that.”
The commission was tasked with investigating the social and environmental impacts of the project, along with a pre-dawn assault on 29 November, where riot police dispersed demonstrators with water cannons and incendiary devices.
More than 100 protestors were injured during the crackdown, most of whom were monks who suffered from serious burns.
According to an independent investigation carried out by the Lawyers’ Network (Myanmar) and the US-based Justice Trust, Burmese riot police used white phosphorous to disperse the protestors.
Although the official commission said smoke bombs, which contained phosphorous, were used during the crackdown, there was no mention of military-issued white phosphorous.
According to the commission, police officials discharged 55 of the 100 smoke canisters they were issued to disperse the demonstrators during the crackdown last year.
Latpaduang commission member Bo Htay defended the report as fair and said it was not designed to support either side involved in the dispute.
“We wrote it constructively and suggested appropriate measures, such as to put the [project] on hold until things calm down and when we have proper democratic principles and standards in place,” said Bo Htay, who added that operations may need to be halted for three to five years before all issues have been addressed.
“Only then should we consider whether the project will go ahead or be abandoned and this way, it will serve the interest of our country and keep the people satisfied.”
The report published several key recommendations to be followed if the government aims to satisfy all parties involved in the dispute.
The suggestions included the completion of environmental and social impact assessments, increasing taxation on the project, as well as greater financial compensation and job opportunities for locals.
Environmentalist Win Myo Thura said he supported the assessment plans but said the commission didn’t specifically address local concerns.
“The locals’ concerns included the pollution of the underground water and destruction of Chindwin River – due to acidic water flowing into it due to poor management – and it has been said the destruction could also affect the Monywa town,” said Win Myo Thura. “I wish they had addressed these in the report.”
Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Open Society (formerly the 88 Generation Students) said the commission’s suggestions would be useful as long as the government adopts them.
“The report also suggests to compensate the villagers according to today’s market prices – if this is implemented properly, we see the report is dealing [with these issues] effectively,” said Mya Aye.
“We also accept the point that in order to bring more foreign investment in the country, we must respect the agreements we made with the international community.”
However, the activist scoffed at the report’s claims that civil society groups were to blame for interfering with negotiations.
“One thing I’m not very pleased with the report it that; it implies the local villagers were [willing to] negotiate until civil society groups got involved – we don’t agree with this,” said Mya Aye.
On Tuesday, the government announced the creation of a new commission that would be responsible for implementing the suggestions published in the report.
The group includes members of the military, the country’s investment commission and the ministry of mines along with representatives from the two major stakeholders in the copper mine – the Union of Myanmar Economics Holding Limited and China’s Wanbao company.
On Monday, a court in Sagaing division’s Monywa district rejected a lawsuit filed by local villagers against President Thein Sein for the botched police crackdown on protestors rallying against the Latpadaung Copper Mining Project.
-Shwe Aung contributed reporting.