MONYWA, Myanmar — Security forces cracked down on protesters occupying a copper mine early today, using water cannons and other devices to break up the rally hours before opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was expected to hear their grievances.
Unexplained fires engulfed the protest camps at the Letpadaung mine in northwestern Myanmar and dozens of Buddhist monks and villagers were injured, according to several protesters. Those who fled the site emerged with burns and charred clothing on their bodies.
"Around 2:30 a.m. police announced they would give us 5 minutes to leave," said protester Aung Myint Htway, a peanut farmer who had burns on his face and body. He said police first fired water cannons and then what he and others called flare guns.
"They fired black balls that exploded into fire sparks. They shot about six times. People ran away and they followed us," he said.
The government had ordered protesters to evacuate by Wednesday or face legal action.
The protesters, who had set up six camps, say the Letpadaung mine is causing environmental, social and health problems.
The protest is the latest major example of increased activism by citizens since an elected government took over last year after almost five decades of repressive military rule.
"This is unacceptable," said Ottama Thara, a 25-year-old monk who was at the protest. "This kind of violence should not happen under a government that says it is committed to democratic reforms."