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Burma admits holding 468 protesters

DPA, Oct 16, 2007

Rangoon, Burma -- The Burmese junta has confirmed that it continues to imprison at least 468 of the 2,927 people it admits to having arrested for participating in last month's peaceful protests.

State-run media said Wednesday, in a short announcement on Burmese TV at 10 pm Tuesday, that the regime had rounded up 2,284 people in Rangoon for their role in last month's anti-military protests, while another 643 were arrested in the provinces.

Of those arrested in Rangoon, the epicentre of the recent protests, some 190 remain under detention in Rangoon and 278 in the provinces.

The news was repeated in state-run newspapers Wednesday.

The announcement was deemed odd because of its briefness and lack of typical anti-western propaganda, leading some to speculate that it may have been made in response to mounting international pressure on the Burmese junta to release all political prisoners including those who were detained in a brutal crackdown on September 26 and 27 on a peaceful monk-led rebellion.

The junta, however, has continued to arrest people weeks after the demonstrations in defiance of world condemnation.

On October 13 it arrested three leaders of the 88 Generation Students group and another activist named Ko Ko who had been in hiding for weeks after participating in marches against fuel price hikes announced on August 15.

The sudden doubling of fuel prices, at a time when Burmese are already suffering from double-digit inflation, sparked the largest demonstrations the country has witnessed since 1988.

After Buddhist monks took the lead in the protest movement, the demonstrations peaked at 100,000 participants on September 24 and 25 before authorities brought in riot police and troops to crush the movement.

The crackdown has drawn Burma, a country that has been under a military dictatorship since 1962, back into the world's spotlight.

The United Nations Security Council on October 11 issued a statement "deploring" the crackdown on monks and laymen and has dispatched special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to pressure the regime to start a dialogue with opposition members while freeing political prisoners including Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and thousands of others.

Those still in danger of getting arrested and tortured consider the UN's actions insufficient.

"Thousands of protests, including monks and students, continue to suffer ill-treatment and severe torture in detention centres and some have passed away in custody," said a letter from three members of the 88 Generation Students group to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The message to Ban, signed by Tun Myint Aung, Nilar Thein and Soe Htun, noted that "this may be the last letter we send to you before our own arrest and torture."

The group urged Ban to station Gambari permanently in Burma for "as long as is necessary to facilitate a political dialogue," and to personally telephone the junta's chief Senior General Than Shwe to demand an end to the torture of those being detained.

"As long as effective action from the international community is delayed, Burma continues to be a lawless society and the regime will continue to kill peaceful demonstrators systematically and quietly in torture chambers," it concluded.

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