MOEGYOBYIN, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi faced the wrath of hundreds of villagers on Thursday angered by her defense of an independent report that backed expansion of a copper mine they say was built on illegally seized land.
The country’s most high-profile lawmaker chaired a panel that concluded in a report on Tuesday that a deal agreed between a local joint venture and the former military government to build the Monywa copper mine should be honored, with amendments made to compensate the public and minimize environmental damage.
“We don’t want Aung San Suu Kyi. We don’t want the copper project,” shouted some 300 demonstrators that had gathered in each of the three villages the opposition leader visited to try to justify the findings of the parliamentary commission.
Protests against the hugely popular longtime leader of the struggle against military rule are almost unheard of in Myanmar, where criticizing the 67-year-old Suu Kyi is rare.
The daughter of independence hero Aung San made a switch last year from activist to politician and found herself saddled with expectations and playing a tricky balancing act that caused some disappointment among the public and human rights groups.
She has been criticized for her reluctance to speak out about violence in Rakhine and Kachin states and for accepting party donations from tycoons considered cronies of the former military junta.
She also caused a stir when she expressed “fondness” for the military, which for more than 15 years kept her under house arrest and jailed and tortured hundreds of her allies.
A spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which re-elected Suu Kyi as its leader last week, said it had urged her not to visit the villages and was worried about her safety.
“It’s a pity most of those who protested had not known anything about the content of the report,” Nyan Win said.
The NLD had received information about “agitation and incitement with political motivation” during the protests, Nyan Win added, without elaborating.
More than 100 people, most of them Buddhist monks, were injured in November when police fired smoke bombs containing phosphorous into crowds of people protesting against the mine, according to the commission, which recommended better training for police.
The panel also recommended greater compensation and return of some farmland to residents and changes to the mine’s expansion plans which residents had said would result in illegal seizure of more than 7,800 acres of land.
Reformist President Thein Sein has set up a committee to implement the recommendations, including representatives of the government and of the mine’s joint owners, the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and a unit of China North Industries Corp, a Chinese weapons manufacturer.
Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel