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Suu Kyi Supports Villagers' Right to Protest Mine

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (center) speaks to villagers near a Chinese-backed copper mine project, in Monywa northern Myanmar on March 13, 2013.
Hundreds of villagers in Monywa, Myanmar took to the streets Wednesday to protest against a controversial copper mine project.

The township is located in the Sagaing division in central Myanmar, 760 kilometers north of the commercial capital Yangon, and has a history of violent clashes between protesters and police over the mining project.

In its final report to Myanmar President Thein Sein, the Investigation Commission said the project should continue despite its drawbacks. It said that it would benefit the country's economic, social, environmental and international relations.

Protesting villagers said they were upset that the project was going forward.

"We do not completely agree with the result (of the investigation commission). In fact, the investigation commission favored the authorities and put pressure on us so that we will face many difficulties in the future, that's why we don't like them at all,'' said Mar Cho, a woman displaced by the project.

Pro-democracy leader and head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party Aung San Suu Kyi paid a visit to the villagers, a day after she helped publish a report demanding that those whose land was seized to allow the expansion of a copper mine in north-western Myanmar should be compensated before the project goes ahead.

It also recommended changes to the expansion plans, which locals said involved the unlawful seizure of more than 7,800 acres of land.

The report also found that inexperienced police officers fired smoke bombs containing harmful phosphorous into a protesters' camp at the Monywa copper mine last November, causing serious injuries. More than 100 people, including 99 Buddhist monks, ended up in the hospital after the suppression of the protests.

Suu Kyi said the protests should continue, if done lawfully.

"Let me tell you frankly, if you wish to protest, get permission by law. Local authority guarantees that if the people request to get permission to protest, we will allow it. Don't protest without getting permission from the authorities. I suggest the authorities take action if the people protest without getting permission because there must be law enforcement in our country,'' she said.

The report recommended greater compensation for residents, including the return of 1,900 acres for farming as the original compensation was insufficient.

A committee has been set up to implement the recommendations.