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Report: Burma Police Used Phosphorus in Mine Protest Crackdown

A Burmese parliamentary investigation has confirmed that police used phosphorus smoke bombs during clashes with protesters last year outside a controversial China-backed copper mine.

Dozens of protesters were burned, some severely, by an incendiary crowd-control device described at the time as "fire balls" that were launched during the November demonstration against the military-operated Letpedaung copper mine.

The report Tuesday acknowledged "unnecessary" burns were inflicted by the phosphorus smoke bombs. But it insisted the burns were "unexpected," saying police used the devices "without knowing what their effect would be."

The long-awaited report also recommended continued work at the copper mine, despite protests by villagers who say it has had a disastrous environmental impact and forced many from their homes.

Villagers have said they are prepared to resume protesting should the results of the report not address their demands.

President Thein Sein commissioned leading opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi to head the report. During the investigation, the democracy leader declared support for the rights of villagers, but also Burma's need to honor its obligations.

The commission on Tuesday conceded the mine would only bring nominal economic benefits to the country. It also mentioned the project's lack of environmental protection measures. But it said scrapping the mine could create tensions with China and discourage foreign investment in the impoverished country.

Hundreds of villagers camped outside the facility for 11 days to protest a $1 billion expansion of the mine, when police were sent in to break up the demonstration in November.

The Burmese government has apologized for the raid. But it has firmly denied reports that police used white phosphorus, a very powerful, and sometimes lethal, chemical used by militaries to create smoke screens.

A report by the Burma Lawyers Network and the U.S.-based rights group Justice Trust alleged that police used military-issued white phosphorus to violently disperse the protest.

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