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Myanmar police defend mine protest response: state media

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Myanmar authorities defended the police handling of a land protest near a Chinese-backed mine, state media reported Friday, accusing villagers of attacking them with petrol bombs, sticks and stones.

Activists on Thursday accused police of quelling a protest by farmers near the Letpadaung mine in Monywa, central Myanmar, with batons and rubber bullets, injuring more than two dozen villagers and arresting three others.

The clashes were an echo of a brutal crackdown on demonstrators near the mine last year, which left dozens wounded, including monks, and highlighted the incendiary nature of land disputes in Myanmar as it undergoes sweeping reforms.

On Thursday dozens of farmers attempted to plough land which no longer belongs to them prompting police to move in, state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar reported.

"Villagers attacked throwing handmade fire (petrol) bombs... and throwing stones at the security forces," injuring at least 15 police officers and prompting authorities to fire rubber bullets as a warning.

Despite orders to disperse "an anarchic group" of villagers continued to attack police, with two protesters wielding a "stick and sword", the report added.

Villagers vowed to protest again on Friday afternoon, calling for the release of three people arrested over the clashes.

Denying protesters used petrol bombs, environmental activist Ba Htoo did admit stones were thrown at police lines.

The farmers accuse authorities of evicting them from land around the mine -- a joint venture between Chinese firm Wanbao and military-owned Myanmar Economic Holding -- and many locals want it shut down.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged locals to accept compensation for their land, following a probe into a brutal crackdown at a 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 villagers' concerns.

Yi Win, a villager who was at the scene of Thursday's clashes, said locals "cannot accept what she (Suu Kyi) said", adding "we want to get our land back and stop the copper mine project".

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 recommended the mine project should not be scrapped, despite conceding it only brought "slight" benefits to the nation.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130426/myanmar-police-defend-mine-protest-response-state-media