Burmese President Thein Sein’s office moved quickly on Thursday to distance itself from a press release posted earlier by the government’s Information Team that had stated that security forces did not use excessive force when breaking up protests at Latpadaung Mountain where at least 80 people, including many Buddhist monks, were burned and injured when riot police moved in to disperse protesters.
The President’s Office stated on its Burmese language website that Press Release No 11/2912 had been retracted, but did not offer any further explanation.
The move came after riot police moved in at 3 am on Thursday morning to disperse hundreds of protesters, many of whom had been staying for several months at the six protests sites surrounding the Monywa copper mine project. The protesters are calling for a suspension of the project, saying that many acres of farmers’ lands have been seized and that the copper mine will irrevocably damage the environment.
The government’s Information Team stated that “despite the project’s good objectives, some people incited others to call for a halt to the project.”
It said that although the Home Affairs Ministry, on August 27, warned the protesters to disperse, they failed to obey. It said that police “used water cannon, tear gas and smoke bombs to break up the demonstration, but they did not use excessive force.”
However, protesters and eyewitnesses claim that the riot police used batons to beat protesters and fired at least six incendiary bombs at the main protest site, causing severe injuries and burns.
Images of Buddhist monks with scolded faces, blistered skin and robes burnt off their backs soon circulated on social media provoking howls of condemnation from observers around the world.
The crackdown on peaceful protesters—not to mention highly revered Buddhist monks—comes at an awkward time for Burma’s President. Just the day before the violence, he was declared “Global Thinker” of 2012 alongside Aung San Suu Kyi by Foreign Policy magazine. And on Monday, the International Crisis Group announced that it would honor Burmese President Thein Sein at its annual “Pursuit of Peace” awards next year.