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Around 150 villagers and Buddhist monks gathered at Shwezigon Pagoda in Monywa on Sunday morning to conduct a prayer ceremony to mark the anniversary, nearly one year ago, of the night riot police brutally firebombed peaceful protestors at a historical Buddhist site near the Latpadaung copper mine.
Later that afternoon, the group travelled to Latpadaung Mountain to view its conditions, in the wake of a resumption of mining activities which the protestors fear will damage the shrine and destroy the mountainside and the wider environment.
“We are here at the pagoda to commemorate the violent crackdown in which locals and Buddhist monks were firebombed,” said Sandar, a local villager.
She said the event’s organisers were told by police not to use or mention the word “Latpadaung” during their prayer ceremony.
“Monywa township administrator Kyu Aye came and told us not to use the word ‘Latpadaung’, and we were under watch by government officials including the special branch,” she said.
La Pyae, a resident from Mogyopyin village, which is located close to the controversial copper mine, said that after inspecting the mountain, the activists issued a set of demands to the authorities.
“Primarily, we have no wish to have the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and the Wanbao [mining contractors] in the area,” he said. “We are also demanding the removal of police guardhouses from the farmlands, and that the police stop shooting at us.”
Meanwhile, Rangoon-based civil society group, the Public Assistance Network, also marked the anniversary of the incident at the Botahtaung Pagoda in the former capital on Sunday evening.
A mass sit-in protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November last year. Some 80 protestors were injured, many with horrific burns that several experts have attributed to white phosphorous bombs.
A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed.