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Junta gives food, cash, to Buddhist monks

Agence France-Presse, October 8, 2007

Rangoon, Burma -- BURMA'S military junta has donated thousands of dollars as well as food and medicines to monasteries in Rangoon, state media reported today, in an apparent gesture of reconciliation.

Buddhist monks last month declared a boycott on donations from soldiers and their families as they spearheaded protests which brought as many as 100,000 people onto the streets of the nation's main city.

The monks were beaten and arrested when the ruling generals reacted to the biggest threat to their rule in 20 years with a bloody crackdown that left at least 13 people dead and more than 2100 locked up.

The official New Light of Myanmar newspaper said Lieutenant General Myint Swe of the defence ministry yesterday distributed about $US8000 ($8877) in cash and huge amounts of rice, cooking oil, toothpaste and medicine to 50 monasteries and a nunnery in northern Rangoon.

The paper, a government mouthpiece, said the donations were made on behalf of military members and their families, and were accepted by the monks.

In Buddhism, refusing to take alms is regarded as a snub akin to effective excommunication, and acceptance of the gifts would indicate the soldiers have been brought back into the faith.

During the weekend the military trumpeted its release of more than half of 2171 people arrested in the crackdown and noted that nearly 400 of 533 monks detained had been "sent back to their respective monasteries".

State media reported that pornography and weapons, including one pistol and 13 slingshots, had been confiscated during raids on the monasteries.

The donations were latest in a series of gestures by the military aimed at easing domestic and international pressure on the regime.

Burma's media last week announced that junta chief Senior General Than Shwe was willing to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the offer came with heavy conditions, including that she end her support for international sanctions.

When UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Burma last week to express global outrage at the junta's actions, he was allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last 18 years under house arrest.

The US has called for her release, and warned last Friday that it could push for UN sanctions, including an arms embargo, if the ruling generals pursue the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

The protests in Burma began in mid-August after a huge overnight hike in fuel prices left many people in the impoverished nation unable even to afford their bus fare to work.

After Mr Gambari briefed the UN Security Council on Friday, the US, Britain and France circulated the draft of a non-binding statement condemning Burma's government.

That statement is to be debated today.

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