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Myanmar junta releases 229 monks and nuns

By Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, Oct 3, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's junta released 80 monks and 149 women believed to be nuns rounded up last week in a crackdown on the biggest anti-government protests in nearly 20 years, one of those freed and relatives said on Wednesday.

In the first sinister glimpses inside the detention machine, a relative of three released women said those being interrogated were divided into four categories: Passers-by, Those who watched, Those who clapped and Those who joined in.

The monk, in his mid-20s but too nervous to give any more details of his identity, said he and 79 brethren were returned to their Mingala Yama monastery in Yangon shortly after midnight.

The remaining 16 of 96 arrested during a raid on the monastery -- among hundreds arrested in similar swoops on at least 15 Buddhist centers in Yangon -- were expected to be freed soon, he said.

The monk said they had been held at a former government technical institute in northern Yangon's Insein district and subjected to verbal, but not physical, abuse.

He did not know how many others were being held at the centre, about a mile from the infamous Insein prison.

"We were forced to change into civilian dress before they interrogated us," the monk said. "They questioned us day and night but we were fed two meals a day."

On their return, they were allowed to wear their maroon monastic cloaks, suggesting they were not being disrobed.

On the night of the raid, the monks were removed by officials who said they were being taken to an early morning "charity breakfast," the freed monk said.

"We were told a lie," he said.

People living near some of the raided monasteries reported monks being hit, kicked and beaten as they were carted off in trucks.

Hundreds were detained and a diplomat who visited the Ngwe Kya Yan monastery told Reuters there were signs of "severe beating" at the gates.

The 149 released women, most of whom had shaven heads, suggesting they were Buddhist nuns, had been moved from the Insein technical institute to the Kyaikkasan racetrack three days before they were freed on Wednesday morning.

Another relative of an official involved said the dresses of two or three of the women, some of whom were in their 70s, were drenched in blood, and they had not been able to wash.

It was not immediately possible to verify the account.

The monks have reported six of their brethren killed in the raids and clashes with riot police and soldiers.

A photograph posted on the exile Democratic Voice of Burma Web site shows the body of a monk lying in a ditch, although there has been no way to confirm any of the rumors sweeping across Yangon of monks being beaten and killed.

State media say 10 people died in the crackdown. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Canberra believed at least 30 people had died and 1,400 placed in detention.

"It's hard to know, but it seems to me that the number of 30, which is the number we've officially been using, is likely to be an underestimate," Downer told Australian radio.

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