Nov 30, 2012

Myanmar - Suu Kyi seeks end to Myanmar mine dispute

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MONYWA, Myanmar: Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday 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.

But in a sign of the challenge confronting the Nobel Peace 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 Thursday, hours before 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, Suu Kyi met officials from the operator of the Chinese-backed copper mine on Thursday, and later visited injured monks in hospital.

On Friday she held talks with police and was later due to meet local residents opposed to the mine, her spokesman Ohn Kyaing said.

In a speech on Thursday in the area, 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.

But 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 President Thein Sein's office denied local media allegations that some kind of chemical weapon was used.

In a statement Thursday it said that water cannon, tear gas and smoke bombs were deployed against the protesters, but later retracted the statement without giving a reason.

- AFP/ir

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