First Virginia Banks Inc. agreed Tuesday to divest three branches with $44 million in deposits to resolve Justice Department objections to a merger with Premier Bankshares.

"These divestitures will preserve competition for loans and other banking services provided to individuals and small businesses," said acting Assistant Attorney General Joseph I. Klein in a written statement.

All of the branches are in southwestern Virginia. The banks will sell Premier branches in Max Meadows and Pound, and a First Virginia branch in Clintwood to a "competitively suitable" buyer.

The banks also agreed not to preclude other financial institutions from buying or leasing space they vacate as a result of branch consolidations.

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