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Villagers heckle Suu Kyi on mine visit

Rare criticism for democracy icon

Villagers heckle Suu Kyi on mine visit
There have been renewed protests against the copper mine
Daniel Wynn, Yangon
Myanmar

March 14, 2013

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Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi experienced rare public criticism on Thursday as villagers living close to a controversial copper mine northeast of Mandalay shouted her down after she earlier recommended continuation of the project.

Following probe findings made public this week by a commission headed by the Nobel peace prize winner which noted mine pollution and police brutality against protesters, Suu Kyi visited the site to explain the report.

But this morning, about 1,000 villagers in Tone Ywar village in central Myanmar tried to block the visit and shouted: “We don’t want Aung San Suu Kyi.” 

They also called for the closure of the mine and punishment of the officials seen as responsible for a violent crackdown against protesters in November.

“We made it clear that we did not wish to meet her. But when she came this morning, we did not let her come into our village,” said 31-year-old Aung Than Myo from Tone Ywa village. “We will continue to call for the complete cancellation of the project.”

Such a hostile reception for the woman viewed as a democracy heroine, and the daughter of independence hero Aung San, is almost unheard of in Myanmar.

In a meeting on Wednesday at a different village near the mine site in Monywa, Sagaing division, Suu Kyi explained that the mine run by Chinese firm Wanbao needed to continue operations to maintain good relations with Beijing.

“We must sacrifice the Letpadaung Mountain for the good of the country,” Suu Kyi said, referring to the giant ore-rich mountain in the area which has been partly destroyed because of the project.

Suu Kyi’s expressed support for China marks a turnaround in her attitude to Myanmar’s giant northern neighbor.

She has previously condemned China for offering material and financial support to the junta when it was struggling against Western sanctions in the 2000s, and for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution on Myanmar in early 2007.

On Thursday, Suu Kyi urged villagers to seek permission before demonstrating, following the introduction of new protest legislation in Myanmar last year, one of numerous reforms.

“She was talking about the rule of law. But she did not breathe a word about how justice can be done regarding the violent crackdown committed against us. We no longer love her,” said Aung Than Myo.

The report’s findings have provoked mixed reactions in Myanmar with some viewing it as a pragmatic and much-needed compromise, and others saying that it has ignored the wishes of residents.

Wanbao and its local partner, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a Myanmar army-owned entity, said on Tuesday they would follow the recommendations of Suu Kyi’s report including payment of adequate compensation to people whose land was confiscated. 

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