Myanmar's Suu Kyi faces flak for backing copper mine

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was met with rare hostility Thursday by villagers near a controversial Chinese-backed mine that was the scene of a violent crackdown last year.

The Nobel laureate, who is normally venerated around the country, was heckled by villagers enraged by her recommendation that the copper mine continues to operate, despite concerns over its environmental impact and land grabbing.

As she toured several villages Thursday, Suu Kyi faced flak from local residents -- some crying -- for her perceived failure to back their grassroots opposition to the mine, according to AFP reporters at the scene.

"Relations between the villagers and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi are very tense... some villagers even shouted back to her," a monk called Nandasarya told AFP from Tone village after her visit on Thursday afternoon.

"Her report is opposite of people's desire. We believed in her," he said, accusing the democracy champion of being aloof by staying in a car rather than touring their protest camp.

"She came here this time like a real official -- with security officials. We felt uncomfortable seeing it."

The row over the mine has thrust Suu Kyi onto the horns of a dilemma over appeasing an expectant public -- which supported her long years of democracy struggle -- and fulfilling her new role as a parliamentarian.

"I'm not working to protect the Letpadaung mountain. I'm working to protect the country," she said earlier Thursday, referring to a mountain villagers say is being levelled by the mine.

"If I have to choose, I will choose the people, not the mountain... I will do what I think is the right thing. I take my responsibility."

The contentious parliamentary report -- released on Tuesday -- said police used phosphorus against demonstrators at the mine in November in the harshest crackdown on protesters since the end of military rule.

However, the probe into the clampdown, which left dozens wounded including monks, recommended the mine project should not be scrapped, despite conceding it only brought "slight" benefits to the nation.

Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged villagers to drop their call for the mine -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding -- to be shut down, saying it would harm the local and national economy.

Since decades of brutal junta rule ended two years ago, Myanmar has seen protests against land grabbing as disgruntled rural people test the boundaries of their freedom to demonstrate under a reform-minded government.