Burmese government troops have dispersed protesters, including Buddhist monks, who were camping outside a copper mine in a northwestern region demanding that an expansion project be halted.
A reporter for VOA's Burmese Service said the security forces moved in about 3 a.m. Thursday local time and dismantled and burned the encampments. The reporter (Thein Htike Oo) said several monks have been injured, with at least one suffering facial burns.
Hundreds of Burmese villagers and monks defied government orders to end a 10-day protest against the expansion of a Chinese-backed copper mine near the town of Monywa. Authorities ordered protesters to leave the area by the end of Tuesday or face unspecified action.
The protesters stayed beyond the deadline, apparently testing the limits of new freedoms introduced by the Burmese government that took office last year. The new government ended decades of military dictatorship and instituted some democratic reforms.
There was no police action against the encampments Wednesday after the deadline passed, but the troops were sent in early Thursday.
Villagers say mine expansion will cause environmental, social and health problems, and also accuse authorities of unlawfully seizing land for the project.
Burma's Home Ministry said mine operations were suspended November 18 because of the protest. It said the occupation must end to allow a parliamentary commission to make a factfinding visit.
Burmese officials have said canceling the project would discourage much-needed foreign investment.
Earlier this year, Burma relaxed laws against public protests. But activists still risk a year in jail if they do not go through the proper channels to get permission for demonstrations.
Burmese activists have been emboldened since President Thein Sein stopped construction of a Chinese-funded hydropower dam in the northern state of Kachin last year. Environmentalists opposed that project because of similar concerns about its social and economic consequences.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was due to visit the copper mine on Thursday to hear protesters' grievances. Her National League for Democracy party is calling for an independent commission to investigate the situation.