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Police used military weapons on protesters: report

Says more than 100 monks and villagers burned with phosphorus smoke grenades

Police used military weapons on protesters: report
A Buddhist monk is treated after being burned in a protest crackdown in November
Daniel Wynn,Yangon

February 14, 2013

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Police used excessive force and military-grade incendiary munitions in a crackdown on protesters of the Letpadaung copper mine in Sagaing division in November last year, according to a report by lawyers and rights activists.

More than 100 Buddhist monks and villagers in Monywa township in central Myanmar were injured after police used incendiary grenades to disperse protesters of a controversial copper mine jointly operated by Chinese and Myanmar companies.

Protesters were demanding the closure of the mine because of environmental threats to the land and local farmers.

The unofficial report, prepared by legal group the Lawyers Network and the US-based Justice Trust, concluded that “police deployed military-issue white phosphorus incendiary smoke grenades to disperse peaceful protesters, setting fire to their camps and causing many injuries.”

The use of these military weapons caused second and third degree chemical burns, said Aung Thein of the Lawyers Network.

He added that the group also found evidence that villagers living near the mine had been subjected to coercion and fraud when they were convinced to sign contracts giving up ownership of their land.

“This is an abuse of administrative procedures and police powers to punish citizens for seeking to exercise their fundamental rights,” said Thein Than Oo, also a lawyer with the network.

In the wake of the crackdown, the government formed a committee headed by opposition National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to investigate the social and environmental impact of the mining project.

The committee has submitted an interim report to Myanmar President Thein Sein, but it has not yet been made available to the public.

“The president must ensure that a government inquiry commission is given the mandate to investigate police actions and recommend prosecution for those found responsible for violations,” the Lawyers Network report stated.

Protests in Monywa township have continued since the crackdown, with nearly 500 demonstrators gathering earlier this week to call for the closure of the copper mine.

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