Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Riot police intervened today to quell the protests of citizens and monks against a Sino-Burmese mine, for unresolved conflicts related to environmental pollution, the forced seizure of land, compensation and resettlement of the displaced. The officers used water cannons to disperse the crowd that, in recent days, has repeatedly shouted slogans and chants against the polluting expansion of the copper quarry, located not far from the town of Monywa, Sagaing region, in the center of Myanmar. In the recent past the area had already been the scene of protests - starting in June - which were followed by numerous arrests by the police (see AsiaNews 09/11/2012 Activists arrested in pagoda: preparing demonstrations against a Sino-Burmese quarry).
Local farmers, Buddhist monks and activists confirmed that the police raid took place at dawn; a dozen people were arrested, while the camp where they had been gathered for days was set on fire by the authorities. A monk named Yaywata told AFP that "the agents stormed while we were sleeping and turned on the water cannons." Among those arrested, there are also some religious, but what arouses most concern are the "burn wounds on the bodies" of some monks. The agents allegedly used a "mysterious gas" on the demonstrators, causing burns to the skin.
The mine, the largest in the country, is owned by Myanmar Wanabo Copper Mining - part of the giant Chinese state-owned China North Industries Corp. (Norinco) - and operates in partnership with the Burmese Ministry of Mines and an industry close to the military leadership. Today there will be a visit by the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to listen to the arguments of protesters and prevent further clashes.
Analysts and experts of Burmese politics emphasize that this case represents an "important test" of Burma's "reform" government, in power since last year and led by President Thein Sein, a former leading figure of the military junta. Recently the government has reformed the law on protests, granting (partial) freedom to protest that before was unthinkable. However, this week the authorities imposed the eviction order and demanded an end to the protests. On 27 November in Yangon, eight people were arrested and charged with contempt of the state and its institutions; they were protesting together with 50 other people for the closure of the Monywa mine and the departure of the Chinese giant which owns half of the property of the site. At the moment they are locked up in a cell in Insein prison; the first hearing of their trial is scheduled for 3 December.
The story of the Monywa mine is not the first example of a Chinese-Burmese project raising controversy due to the impact on the environment and the violations of citizens' rights. Last year, the government of Naypyidaw has amazed the world with the announcement of the cessation of construction of the Myitsone dam - in northern Kachin - made by President Thein Sein in person (see AsiaNews09/30/2011 President Burmese interrupts the construction of the Myitsone dam). Today, activists and environmental organizations are asking for the block of similar projects in a country rich in raw materials but at the risk of uncontrolled exploitation.