Buddhist monks a major force in protests against disputed Myanmar copper mine

December 30, 2012

(Buddhist monks take part in a protest in support of demonstrators who were injured during a copper mine riot, in Yangon December 12, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

Pyinyananda was chanting with dozens of fellow Buddhist monks when an object landed in the folds of his orange robes and blew up.

The canister contained tear gas, the police later said, but the explosion flayed so much skin from his arms and legs that he remains in hospital weeks later.

“The police gave no warning before they fired,” said Pyinyananda, 19, nursing his bandaged arms.

He was one of at least 67 monks and six other people injured on November 29, when riot police raided camps set up by villagers protesting against a $1 billion expansion of the Myanmar Wanbao copper mine in northern Myanmar.

The raids sparked nationwide outrage that dented the reformist credentials of President Thein Sein, a former general whose quasi-civilian government replaced a decades-old dictatorship in 2011. They also underscored how, after a year of often breathtaking change, the bad old Myanmar still looms over the new.

The mine protest also capped a year in which Myanmar’s monks returned as a major political force – for good and for bad. Monks have been famed for years for their pro-democracy stance. This year, some of them were shown to have an anti-Muslim stance as well.

Monks have held street rallies to oppose the mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine State in western Myanmar. There, two eruptions of sectarian violence this year with Rakhine Buddhists left hundreds dead and tens of thousands homeless.

In an October outbreak, monks openly incited Rakhine mobs to attack Muslims. The ethnic cleansing that followed has left Muslims elsewhere in Myanmar fearing for their own safety.
Read the full story by Andrew R.C. Marshall here.
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