Raid on Burmese mine protesters
The deal between the military and the Chinese company, a subsidiary of a state-owned Chinese arms manufacturer, to expand the mine was signed two years ago when Thein Sein was prime minister under the military junta.
According to a US diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, the deal was brokered by Tay Za, a tycoon who became rich through his connections to the military government, especially the country's former dictator, Gen Than Shwe.
The crackdown may also complicate the investment picture for China, which has struggled in Myanmar with the perception that it is mainly interested in extracting natural resources from the country, not in aiding its development.
The Global Times, a state-owned Chinese newspaper, published an article yesterday before the crackdown that accused the west and advocacy groups of instigating the protests against the mine project and said that shutting it down would be "a lose-lose situation" for the two countries.
"Chinese companies' investments in Myanmar are facing huge challenges," the article said. "What we see in the country is the inevitable impact of its democratisation."
Anti-Chinese sentiment was a major factor in the cancellation of a hydroelectric dam project last year in northern Burma that would have exported electricity to China. The project was suspended after an outcry.
Yesterday's raid came before dawn. Ashin Visara, a 28-year-old monk who was injured in the crackdown, said security forces threw "explosive devices" into the areas where protesters were camped out.
"That started fires at the protest sites," he said. "And then they attacked us."
Nway Oo, a student activist from Monywa who assisted the injured, said many protesters fled into the surrounding villages or the jungle.
"There were no medical personnel or ambulances around before the crackdown," he said.
The mine, which is often referred to as Letpadaung for the mountains from which the copper is extracted, was initially operated by a joint venture between the Myanmar government and a Canadian company, Ivanhoe Mines. The Chinese company became involved two years ago. The expansion project would displace inhabitants of two dozen villages.
The protests have been led in part by two young women, Aye Net and Thwe Thwe Win, who reportedly escaped arrest.
The crackdown is a setback for the efforts of advocacy groups that focus on the crucial question of land rights, an issue likely to become more contentious as economic growth makes villagers' land more attractive to companies and property developers.
Land rights were the focus of a conference last weekend in the capital, Naypyidaw, that was attended by high-ranking government officials.
New York Times service