MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — Security forces used water cannons, tear gas and smoke bombs Thursday to clear protesters from a copper mine in northwestern Myanmar, wounding villagers and Buddhist monks just hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the area to hear their grievances.
Monks and other protesters had serious burns after the crackdown at the Letpadaung mine near the town of Monywa.
"I didn't expect to be treated like this, as we were peacefully protesting," said Aung Myint Htway, a peanut farmer whose face and body were covered with black patches of burned skin.
The police action risks becoming a public relations and political fiasco for the reformist government of President Thein Sein, which has been touting its transition to democracy after almost five decades of repressive military rule.
"This is unacceptable," said Ottama Thara, a 25-year-old monk who was at the protest. "This kind of violence should not happen under a government that says it is committed to democratic reforms."
Suu Kyi's visit to nearby Kan Kone village had been scheduled before the crackdown, and thousands of people were waiting to hear speak Thursday afternoon.
The Nobel Peace laureate, elected to parliament after spending most of the last two decades under house arrest, greeted supporters as her car drove slowly through the crowds, but the vehicle drove past the stage where she was supposed to speak. She instead headed to the mine to talk to its operators before making her speech.
The protesters oppose the environmental and social damage they say is being caused by the mining operation, which is a joint venture between a Chinese company and a holding company controlled by Myanmar's military. Most people remain suspicious of the military, while China is widely seen as having propped up army rule for years, in addition to being an aggressive investor exploiting the country's many natural resources.