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Police crack down on Myanmar mine protest

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A protest by villagers evicted from land near a Chinese-backed mine was violently quelled by police Thursday, activists said, in an echo of a crackdown at the flashpoint site last year.

Farmers attempting to plough land seized to make way for the mine clashed with police protecting the site, according to Ba Htoo, an environmental activist speaking to AFP from the scene in Monywa, central Myanmar.

"About 200 police asked the villagers -- who went to farmland in the copper mine area -- to stop... police said the area was restricted.

"There were some clashes between the police and villagers," he said, adding one villager was shot and more than two dozen others hurt by police batons.

It was unclear if the police used real or rubber bullets.

A monk who is an activist in a village near the Letpadaung mine confirmed villagers were injured -- although he was not at the scene -- explaining some farmers who refused compensation went to reclaim their land.

"They tried to farm the land with their cows and carts. The police stopped them and there were clashes," the monk, called Nandasarya, told AFP, adding at least one villager received gunshot wounds.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged villagers in the area to accept compensation for their land, following a probe into a brutal crackdown on protest at the mine last year.

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

Suu Kyi's report to parliament last month 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.

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.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130425/police-crack-down-myanmar-mine-protest