Military minefields blocking transition to democracy
Protests such as those against the Latpadaung copper mine are putting a spotlight on powerful conglomerates run by former generals who have traded their uniforms for business suits and are accused of carving up the country's natural wealth with China
The term ''irreversible transformation'' is popular these days with Myanmar's former military generals who use it at international roadshows, but as the Latpadaung copper mine unrest shows, the transformation may be largely superficial. When protests at the mine led by monks and local activists were brutally broken up by the government late last month, injuring more than 50 protesters, it was stark proof of military's lingering dominance. The unrest also highlights concerns over political and economic ties between the Myanmar military and the Chinese government. The Latpadaung copper mine project is a joint venture between the Chinese-owned Wanbao Mining Company and the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Company (UMEH), which not coincidentally is run by former military officers.
angry locals gather in Monywa at a public assembly regarding the Latpadaung copper mine.
The crackdown at the mine near the town of Monywa in Sagaing Division on Nov 29 occurred just hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was scheduled to meet protesters. Afterwards, as images of injured monks evoked the military's violent suppression of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, she spoke with enraged locals in Monywa. During a public assembly there, Mrs Suu Kyi demanded that the government provide an explanation for the crackdown, but also urged the angry crowd to be patient and solve the problem in a mature way as many issues including national reconciliation and the country's relationship with China were involved. As she spoke some members of the crowd asked why UMEH had taken control of the project from the Ministry of Mines. Anti-Chinese sentiment among the crowd was also evident. The Chinese embassy in Myanmar has pledged its government's commitment to a ''favourable environment for the project's smooth operation, based on respect for the laws and regulations of Myanmar''.
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