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"You are no longer monks," Myanmar prisoners told

By Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, Oct 11, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- Hundreds of Buddhist monks rounded up by Myanmar's junta were beaten and kept in animal-like conditions without toilets or drinking water during days of interrogation, one of those freed said on Thursday.

"At the beginning it was very, very bad," one recently released monk told Reuters, requesting anonymity because of the threat of repercussions against those who speak out against the regime, the latest face of 45 years of unbroken military rule.

Caged for more than a week at a former Government Technical Institute compound in north Yangon, the monks -- revered figures in the devoutly Buddhist nation -- were stripped of their maroon monastic robes and treated like common criminals.

"When one of us used a pronoun refering to himself as a monk, he was slapped," the monk said. "Then an interrogator said: 'You are no longer a monk. You are just an ordinary man with a shaven head.'"

The monks, mostly young men whom the army sees as the biggest threat to its iron grip on power because of their moral authority, were packed into rooms so tightly they could not lie down, let alone sleep, in the sweltering monsoon season heat.

For days, they had no toilet, nowhere to wash their hands, and were forced to scoop up slops of barely cooked rice with their bare hands.

"We had no spoons or forks so we had to eat with our fingers," said the monk, who spent 10 days in the makeshift detention centre. "The food was horrible."

At times during the relentless barrage of questioning to identify ringleaders of the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years, the monks were forced to put their hands on their heads and squat while their inquisitors remained seated on chairs.

Those who gave wrong or inadequate answers were hit about the head or kicked, the monk said.

There was no medical treatment, he added, for those hurt during interrogation or during the nocturnal raids on Yangon monasteries in the final week of September, the first wave of a ruthless and clinical response to the demonstrations.

Through its rigidly controlled state media, the junta admits 10 people were killed in the crackdown, although Western governments say the toll is likely to be much higher.

The monk's testimony tallies with other accounts of abuse of detainees, including the reported death in custody of a member of the opposition near the former Burma's second city of Mandalay.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPPB), a group of former detainees with extensive contacts, said on Wednesday 42-year-old Win Shwe had died "as a result of torture during interrogation".

As the junta continued to arrest dissidents, official papers accused foreign governments -- essentially the United States and Britain -- and media of stirring up the protests, which started in mid-August against shock increases in fuel prices.

"Stooges of foreign countries, neglecting the national prestige and integrity, put on a play written by their foreign masters," the official New Light of Myanmar said.

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