BANGKOK — Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi was heckled by protesters at a controversial copper mine project in Burma’s north this week. The rare public display of protest against the Nobel Peace laureate comes after she backed a government report that recommended operations at the mine continue.
Since her release from house arrest more than two years ago, Aung San Suu Kyi’s public events are typically warm receptions from crowds of adoring supporters. But her visit this week to Tone village, where people have been displaced and put out of work by a Chinese-backed copper mine, was different.
As she tried to speak with those protesting, some shouted that they did not want to see her anymore and refused to talk.
Daw Aye, a widow who farms in the area, says she has lost faith in the opposition leader because she failed to stop the mine.
Aye says many people including monks have sacrificed their lives for the opposition leader before. And Aye says she feels disappointed that everything she once hoped for did not happen. Aye says Aung San Suu Kyi has not turned out to be the person Aye thought she was.
Residents are angry that Aung San Suu Kyi's investigation committee failed to identify a person responsible for the police's use of white phosphorous against protesters in November last year. The report also recommended that the mine project should move forward despite villagers concerns over its environmental and social impact.
Aung San Suu Kyi defended the decisions to villagers and media gathered at the site Thursday.
"What I want to say is that there must be profits for local investors and so our country is not only for the local people but for the people in the whole country. That's why I agreed to continue the project this way. And that's why I advise this project should continue," she said.
As Aung San Suu Kyi makes the transition from political prisoner and activist to mainstream politician, she has spoken frequently of compromise as she tries to cooperate with the two-year old civilian government. But some former supporters say she has compromised too much.
Ba Htoo of the People’s Welfare Network traveled from Rangoon to protest outside the headquarters of the Chinese military-backed company operating the mine. He says he sees this as just one of the opposition leader’s failures.
He says that although Aung San Suu Kyi is a public leader, she has not spoken out on the Rakhine or Rohingya issue. She has not put in effort to strive for the ethnic minorities. And in the copper mining project of Letpadaung, he says he has seen her turn her back on the public.
Win Tin, formerly of the central executive committee of Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, has been one of her few vocal critics, but continues to view her as the party’s rightful leader. He says he was not surprised she backed the mine project, because she has been a firm supporter of foreign investment in Burma.
"Some matters you see I cannot stand for her activities. That doesn't mean I'm not following her leadership. She's the only capable leader, she deserves the leadership and she's still in the position of leader for the whole movement," he said.
Those wounded in the November mine protests numbered more than 100 people, many of them Buddhist monks. The government report has recommended better training for police to prevent such incidents in the future, and greater compensation and the return of some farmland to residents.