Government officials had publicly stated that the protest risked scaring off foreign investment that is key to rebuilding the economy after decades of neglect.
State television broadcast an announcement Tuesday night that ordered protesters to cease their occupation of the mine by midnight or face legal action. It said the protesters began occupying the mine area Nov. 18, and operations had been halted since then.
Some villagers among a claimed 1,000 protesters left the mine after the order was issued. But others stayed through Wednesday, including about 100 monks. Police moved in to disperse them early Thursday.
"Around 2:30 a.m. police announced they would give us five minutes to leave," Aung Myint Htway said. He said police fired water cannons first and then shot 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, still writhing hours later from pain. "It's very hot."
Photos of the wounded monks showed they had sustained serious burns on parts of their bodies. It was unclear what sort of weapon caused them, or whether the burns were caused by their shelters catching fire from whatever devices police used.
The protesters' concerns about the mine do not appear to be widely shared by the broader public. But hurting monks — as admired for their social activism as they are revered for their spiritual beliefs — is sure to antagonize many ordinary people, especially as Suu Kyi's visit highlights the events.
Aung Myint Htway said he didn't care that police treated him badly but added, "I won't forgive them for what they did to our monks."
According to a nurse at a Monywa hospital, 27 monks and one other person were admitted with burns caused by some sort of projectile that released sparks or embers. Two monks with serious injuries were sent for treatment in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-biggest city, a 2½ hour drive away.