Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday met police behind a crackdown on a Chinese mine protest and was due to hear villagers’ grievances in a bid to mediate an end to the dispute.
However, in a sign of the challenge confronting the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, China’s embassy in Yangon insisted that the issues of relocation, compensation and environmental safeguards had already been “settled.”
Dozens of protesters, including monks, were injured when riot police moved in to end the rally at the Monywa mine in northern Myanmar early on Thursday, hours before Aung San Suu Kyi was due to visit. Some suffered severe burns.
It was the toughest crackdown on protesters since a new reform-minded government took power last year, replacing decades of outright military rule.
With anger mounting over the pre-dawn raid, Aung San Suu Kyi met officials from the operator of the Chinese-backed copper mine on Thursday, and later visited injured monks in hospital.
In a speech on Thursday in the area, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was ready to help find a “peaceful” end to the standoff between authorities and protesters, who allege mass evictions have taken place to make way for the mine.
“After getting both points of view, I want to negotiate my best,” she said. “I can’t guarantee whether I will succeed or not, but I believe I will ... if the people will hold my hand in finding the solution.”
Monks, villagers and student activists are calling for work at the mine — a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings — to be suspended to allow environmental and social impact studies.
However, the Chinese embassy said the contentious points had already been resolved.
“Issues such as relocation, compensation, environmental protection and profit sharing ... were jointly settled through negotiations by the two sides and meet Myanmar’s laws and regulations,” it said in a statement.
Activists said about 100 people were injured in the crackdown.
Several monks were in a “critical condition,” according to pro-democracy campaigner Myo Thant of the 88 Generation Students group.
It was unclear exactly what caused the burns, but Burmese President Thein Sein’s office denied local media allegations that some kind of chemical weapon was used.