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Did Burma close down the democratic reform in 2014?

By Zin Linn
December 31, 2014 

Citizens of Burma or Myanmar remain skeptical of political transformation under the existing President Thein Sein’s regime that claims itself as a reformist government. The reason is that the regime just changes its clothes rather than its undemocratic mind-set. People believe country’s sovereignty has been dishonored by the Chinese state-owned Wanbao Company hiring Myanmar police as a tool.

Recently on 22 December 2014, a village-woman, Daw Khin Win, 56, was lethally shot by police as villagers made an effort to avert a land seizure in the vicinity of the Letpadaung copper mining project as stated by media reports. Daw Khin Win joined a crowd of around sixty villagers trying to prevent Chinese company’s attempting to put up a fence in the neighborhood of disputed farmlands. Daw Khin Win was killed on the spot as police opened fire at the protesters following villagers hit back the police and Chinese workers. Several other villagers were also injured, private media said.

Looking back into the past, the government has unveiled its true character during the crackdown on the peaceful anti-copper mine protesters including several Buddhist monks in November 2012. On November 29, 2012, in Monywa, Sagaing Division, riot police brutally run over six protest camps at the Letpadaung copper mine, arrested an indefinite number of protesters, and injured at least 100, including many with severe burns.

The worst was that the riot police have used inflammable bombs while they raided the camps where monks peacefully slept at early hours of the full-moon day. The regime used riot police equipped with harmful weapons, although there was no situation of riot or disorder in those sites where monks recited Mitta Sutra. Actually, the anti-copper mine protesters were just exposing their citizens' rights that the mine has severely damaged their livelihoods, environments and cultural heritages without sympathy.

The controversial copper mine in Sarlingyi Township in Monywa District is being accused of widespread land confiscations and environmental degradation, including mountain top abolition. The Lapadaungtaung copper mine project is jointly run by the military-owned UMEHL and China's Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Chinese arms manufacturer NORINCO.

During the protests against the Letpadaung copper-mine, the riot police are responsible for breaching common human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and inhumane treatment that allow running free inflammable bombs into the crowd, as said by witnesses who joined the protest. That kind of act is more than an ordinary rights abuse. It's a violation of crime against humanity since nearly a hundred monks have been suffering severe burns all over their bodies.

Meanwhile, Notification No. 92/2012 appeared on the president's office website on 1 December 2012. The announcement said the President had set up a 30-member "Investigation Commission" chaired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to look into whether copper mining should be continued and to find out the true situation about the recent containing of protest in Letpadaungtaung Copper Mining Project in Salingyi Township.

But, two days after the Notification No. 92/2012 prepared the 30-member commission, president's office released additional Notification No. 95/2012 on 3 December that the commission has been cut up to 16 members without stating any reasons for the cutback of the body. The closing date for the commission's report has also been postponed by a month, to 31 January, 2013.

The U-turn in the Presidential Notification No. 95/2012 dated 3 December is the latest inconsistency of government statements on the topic of the controversial Monywa copper mine tragedy. However, the 16-member commission has no authority to investigate unlawful crackdown done by the riot police equipped with harmful weapons and inflammable bombs.

A comment is scattering in the public that inquiry commissions have been frequently set up in this country. However, the government doesn't regularly scrutinize how the commissions do their duties and compile practical findings. That means people do not trust the work of such commission. People believe the commission’s findings were exploited by the military-owned UMEHL and China's Wanbao Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Chinese arms manufacturer NORINCO.

In contrast, people were disturbed by the information when the President assigns their charismatic leader Aung San Suu Ky as commission chair. As they distrust the quasi-civilian regime practicing the old repressive conducts upon the citizens by abusing the law, people scared that Burma's Nobel laureate might perhaps be exploited by the immoral authorities.
Despite much talk about needed economic reform, President failed to mention the corruption and unprofessional conduct of officials from UMEHL and MEC. Without officially recognizing the well embedded corrupt practices in society, there can be no means to adequately address the issue.

The country’s citizens are very poor not because the country has no resources, but because the country’s leaders, including the current semi-elected government, refuses to acknowledge the extent of corruption and wealth amassed by the select few.

Without changing the functions and ownership of the military-run extra-large businesses, the President’s reform process will be of little real benefit to the general population. As foreign investment increases, the same military affiliated businesses and crony associates will be the biggest beneficiaries, not the average citizens.

According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, local villagers and activists have been calling for the shutting down of the Latpadaung Copper Mine, a joint-venture between the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and Wanbao, a subsidiary to a Chinese arms manufacturer, which they claim is responsible for the confiscation of about 7,800 acres of farmland in total and has displaced farmers from 66 villages.

If President Thein Sein thinks himself of a true reformist, he should give sufficient authority to the copper-mine commission chaired by Aung San Suu Kyi along the lines of the international values in order to settle down the crisis before tragic situation took place.

The government must provide more transparency and accountability on Letpadaungtaung Copper Mine Project as Chinese company begins dishonoring Burma’s sovereignty. Besides, the killing of a village-woman in this December 2014, during anti-copper mine protest, looks as if Burma started closing down the democratic reform.

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