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Myanmar Junta Puts Pressure on Monks

AP, October 8, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's military leaders said weapons had been seized from Buddhist monasteries and announced dozens of new arrests Sunday, defying global outrage over its violent repression of protesters who sought an end to 45 years of dictatorship.

Recent raids on monasteries turned up guns, knives and ammunition, though it was not yet clear to whom they belonged, according to The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece of the junta. The government threatened to punish any monks that violate the law, stepping up pressure on clerics who led the protests.

State media including the New Light of Myanmar newspaper is only propaganda and not taken seriously in Myanmar, said Soe Aung, a spokesman for the National Council of the Union of Burma, a coalition of opposition groups based in neighboring Thailand.

``The government newspaper is not read by most people. It is used for wrapping paper,'' he said in a telephone interview.

In its article, the New Light stated that ``monks must adhere to the laws of God and the government. If they violate those laws, action could be taken against them.''

Security eased in the largest city of Yangon more than a week after soldiers and police opened fire on demonstrators. Some roadblocks were removed and visitors began trickling back to the heavily guarded Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, the starting and finishing points of protests that began in mid-August over a sharp fuel price increase.

The junta says at least 10 people were killed in its Sept. 26-27 crackdown - though independent sources say the toll was likely much higher - and that some 1,000 remain in detention centers.

At least 135 monks are being held, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

In addition, 78 more people suspected of involvement in the rallies were being questioned by investigators, it said.

Tens of thousands of people turned out for last month's protests, the biggest in nearly two decades against brutal military rule. The junta's bloody crackdown sparked international condemnation - even from its Southeast Asian neighbors.

Malaysia urged the military regime on Sunday to quickly hold unconditional talks with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, before the world pushes harder for political change.

The comments by Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar followed a warning from the United States that it would push for U.N. sanctions against Myanmar if it fails to move toward democracy.

China and Russia, however, have expressed opposition to any such action and Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win told the U.N. General Assembly last week democracy ``cannot be imposed from outside.''

The junta's propaganda machine, meanwhile, continued to claim massive rallies across the country, allegedly in support of the government. The paper said demonstrators denounced the recent protests ``instigated'' by some monks and members of Suu Kyi's party.

Demonstrators waved placards and shouted: ``We want peace, we don't want terrorists.'' It reported four rallies in central and northwestern Myanmar, attended by 7,500, 19,000, 20,000 and 30,000 people.

Such rallies are widely believed to be stage-managed by the government, with every family in the district forced to contribute one or two members.

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962. The current junta came to power after routing a 1988 pro-democracy uprising, killing at least 3,000 people. Suu Kyi's party won elections in 1990, but the generals refused to accept the results.

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