* "Serious criminal act" took place Sept. 24-Exxon
* Project in early stages of development-Exxon
* No one hurt or injured-Exxon (Adds comment from Exxon)
PERTH, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Villagers in Papua New Guinea attacked Exxon Mobil's liquefied natural gas project late last week, burning heavy machinery and using high-powered weapons to damage construction equipment, a newspaper reported.
The attack took place on Friday night at Kaiam, Papua New Guinea, near the project's Kopi LNG facility, Papua New Guinea's The National newspaper reported.
The attacks were part of ongoing land disputes within the footprint of the $15 billion PNG LNG project.
Residents of the area have been frustrated by what they see as their exclusion from participating in the initial stages of construction of PNG LNG's 6.6-million-tonne-per-year processing plant that began this year, the paper said.
No one was wounded or directly threatened in the attacks, which took place at a quarry site of the Australia-based Clough Curtain joint venture, Exxon said.
"It was a serious criminal act but did not involve a large group," the oil company said in a statement sent by email.
Exxon declined to provide any additional details, citing an ongoing police investigation.
The project is at an early stage of a four-year construction period, with activities under way in design, pre-mobilization and early site work, Exxon said.
Media reports have suggested that the project could be delayed due to landowner disputes with the government.
At a conference in Singapore last week, Papua New Guinea's minister of planning and development, Paul Tiensten, said there was "infighting" among the landowners affected by the project, but said the project was still expected to stay within the original cost estimate and start exporting LNG in 2014. Tiensten said some of the 60,000 landowners affected by the project question the division of benefits from the project.
LNG benefit-sharing negotiations late last year resulted in violence in Port Moresby and this year a fatal gunbattle erupted between tribal groups arguing over a share of the project.
The Papua New Guinea government holds equity in the project, while Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) is the majority stakeholder. Other equity holders include Oil Search (OSH.AX), Santos (STO.AX), and Japan's Nippon.
PNG LNG has long-term supply agreements with China's Sinopec (0386.HK), Japan's TEPCO (9501.T) and Osaka Gas (9532.T), and Taiwan's CPC. (Reporting by Rebekah Kebede, with additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by Ed Davies and Walter Bagley)