YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Two Buddhist monks who were among scores seriously burned during a 2012 police crackdown on protesters campaigning against a Chinese-backed copper mine said Monday that they are suing Myanmar's home minister and police chief.
More than 100 monks suffered serious burns from smoke bombs that reportedly contained white phosphorous when police dispersed the protesters at the Letpadaung copper mine in northwestern Myanmar.
"We are suing the government not out of grudge or for personal gains, but because we want justice," 42-year-old monk U Withoda said at a news conference in Yangon.
He also called on the government to make a public apology for the use of phosphorous bombs during the crackdown and to resolve the grievances of land grab victims. The Letpadaung mine has been a focal point of land rights disputes in recent years.
"We have taken this legal step because we want to seek justice and we want to see that rule of law prevails in the country," said U Tikha Nyana, the other monk involved in the lawsuit.
U Tikha Nyana, 66, suffered burns over about 60 percent of his body during the crackdown, while U Withoda's burns were not as severe.
Aung Thein, a prominent lawyer who is assisting the two monks, said that since no one has taken responsibility for the injuries sustained during the crackdown, U Withoda and U Tikha Nyana filed a lawsuit last week against the home minister, Maj. Gen. Ko Ko, and the national police chief, Zaw Win.
Aung Thein said he was ready to help if other monks who were burned want to join the lawsuit.
The government's information minister did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The human right group Justice Trust, which works to advance rule of law in Myanmar and is supporting the monks, said in a statement that the lawsuit was launched for the ordering of what it called an illegal police action.
It said that 57 of the injured monks suffered serious burns requiring long-term medical care.
"This is a groundbreaking test case for Myanmar's legal system," said Roger Normand, Justice Trust's founder and executive director. "It is critical that senior government officials are held accountable when their orders result in gross violations of people's rights."
The protest in November 2012 drew international attention. Victims and lawyers said police used shells containing white phosphorous, an incendiary munition, to disperse the protesters, but authorities have acknowledged using only tear gas and smoke grenades.
This past December, a villager was shot dead during a confrontation as police and Chinese workers erected a fence on land that villagers claimed was theirs.
The Letpadaung mine is a joint venture between a Myanmar military-controlled holding company and China's Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd., a unit of weapons manufacturer China North Industries Corp. Villagers say the mine causes environmental, social and health problems, and want it closed.