The government of Myanmar has apologised to Buddhist monks for injuries, including serious burns, suffered last month during a police operation against evictions caused by the expansion of a copper mine.
Minister of Religious Affairs Myint Maung made a formal apology to 29 senior monks and said police regretted the incident, state-owned television reported late on Friday.
“The policemen who had to discharge their duties were extremely sorrowful that monks, some novices and other persons were wounded in the copper mining project incident,” Myint Maung told the monks, adding that the government would do its utmost to ensure such “undesirable incidents” did not happen again.
“It was found that the monks and novices carried no guilt as they were young and had no knowledge of political tricks,” he said.
Activists said at least 50 people had been injured when riot police moved in at the Monywa mine in the northwest region of Sagaing on November 29.
That included more than 20 Buddhist monks, some with burns blamed on incendiary devices thrown by police.
Anger had grown at the heavy-handed police intervention, reminiscent of the way dissent was stifled under the junta that ruled Myanmar for half a century until President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian, reformist government took office in March 2011.
As monks protested around the country, Thein Sein quickly asked opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to head an investigation into the incident and the copper mine project.
At a news conference on Thursday, Suu Kyi said it would be premature to blame anyone for the incident.
“It is impossible to satisfy everyone in such an inquiry,” she said. “The commission will do its best to reveal the truth and make the best suggestions bravely for the long-term interests of the country, the people, and for cementing democracy.”
The dispute at the Monywa mine centres on allegations of mass evictions and environmental damage caused by the project — a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings.