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At least two people have been arrested at a rally in Rangoon held to condemn a violent police crackdown on protesters at a Chinese-backed copper mine, an activist and an AFP reporter said on Sunday.
An AFP reporter at the Rangoon rally witnessed two men, including a protest leader called Moe Thway, being arrested by uniformed police.
The reason for their arrests was unclear and police could not immediately be reached for comment, but activists said they were picked out for organising the rally without gaining permission from the authorities.
Moe Thway and two other protesters were arrested, activist Nyi Nyi Lwin said, adding “we are expressing our feelings… I don’t think we need permission to express our desires”.
The dispute at the Latpaduang Copper Mine in Monywa township pivots on allegations of mass evictions and environmental damage caused by the project – a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings.
Photographs of the protesters’ injuries, which included severe burns, have stirred outcry across Burma, reminding the public of the brutal junta-era security tactics.
The issue has become the latest test of how Thein Sein’s reform-minded government handles protests, in a country where dissent was routinely stamped out for decades.
Suu Kyi to lead copper mine probe
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will lead a probe into a crackdown on a protest against a Chinese-backed copper mine, which will also assess the future of the contested project, the president’s office said on Saturday.
The 30-strong non-parliamentary commission will investigate the “social and environmental issues” behind the protests, which include allegations of mass evictions to make way for the mine.
The Nobel laureate has sought to mediate an end to the stand-off at the mine in Monywa, northern Burma, which saw scores of villagers and monks injured in the toughest clampdown on demonstrators since President Thein Sein’s reform-minded government came to power last year.
The commission will “investigate the truth” of the pre-dawn raid by riot police and assess whether the “copper mining project is being implemented in accord with international norms”, a statement on the presidential office website, signed by Thein Sein, said late on Saturday.
It will also advise whether “to continue the copper mining project and whether to stop foreign investment”, the statement said, without providing further details.
China insists that the contentious points had already been resolved, but the dispute echoes fierce opposition to a Chinese-backed mega-dam which saw Thein Sein order the scheme’s suspension last year in response to public anger.
Suu Kyi visited the area and on Friday demanded an apology for monks hurt in the crackdown, after holding talks with both sides.
But the veteran dissident struck a conciliatory tone towards China and declined to back calls for an immediate halt to work on the mine.
The presidential office statement followed an apology by police for injuring monks in their crackdown on protest camps on Thursday, an AFP reporter said Saturday, but tensions over the pre-dawn raid remained high.
A senior police official among around 100 officers told a group of 10 monks that “we are sorry for what happened and apologise”, according to the AFP reporter at the scene, although it was unclear if the monks accepted the apology.
With many monks still being treated in hospital, Aye Net, a protest leader in Monywa, said anger was still raw towards the police despite the apology, telling AFP
“I will never forget the scenes of their crackdown”.