Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Reeling from Warlike Attack ; White Phosphorus Used to Suppress Protests in Myanmar, Lawyers Say

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Reeling from Warlike Attack ; White Phosphorus Used to Suppress Protests in Myanmar, Lawyers Say

Article excerpt

Burmese lawyers together with a U.S. human rights specialist gathered evidence at the site of the November protest and determined that white phosphorus was used to disperse the crowds.

A group of lawyers investigating a violent crackdown in Myanmar that left Buddhist monks and villagers with serious burns has concluded that the police used white phosphorus, a munition normally reserved for warfare, to disperse protesters.

The suppression of a protest in November outside a controversial copper mine in central Myanmar shocked the Burmese public after images of critically wounded monks circulated across the country. It also gave rise to fears that the civilian government of President Thein Sein, which came to power in 2011, was using the same methods as the military governments that preceded it.

Burmese lawyers, together with a U.S. specialist in human rights law, gathered evidence at the site of the protest, including a metal canister that protesters said had been fired by the police. The canister was taken to a private laboratory in Bangkok, where a technician determined that residue inside the canister contained high levels of phosphorus. Access to the canister and a copy of the laboratory report were provided to a reporter.

"We are confident that they used a munition that contained phosphorus," said U Thein Than Oo, who heads the legal committee of the Upper Burma Lawyers Network, which helped conduct the investigation. "They wanted to warn the entire population not to protest. They wanted to intimidate the people."

White phosphorus has many uses in war -- as a smoke screen or incendiary weapon -- but is rarely if ever used by police forces.

John Hart, a senior researcher at the Chemical Weapons Program of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said by e- mail that although white phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon under a 1993 international convention, it is banned from uses that "cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of the chemical."

Reached on Wednesday, Zaw Htay, a director in the office of Mr. Thein Sein, declined to comment on what kind of weapon was used. "I can't say," he said. "I can't answer."

One of the monks wounded at the protest, Ashin Tikhanyana, 64, has burns over 40 percent of his body and was flown to Bangkok by the government in Myanmar because the country does not have the facilities to treat such a serious case.

Two months after the crackdown, Mr. Tikhanyana remains in intensive care. In an interview on Wednesday in his hospital room, he described the moment that the police came to disperse the crowds in the predawn hours of Nov. 29.

"I saw a fireball beside me, and I started to burn," he said. "I was rolling on the ground to try to put it out."

Dr. Chatchai Pruksapong, a burn specialist treating Mr. …

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