Myanmar's junta said it has arrested five former student dissidents in the past week to prevent unrest and terrorist attacks, in its first explanation for a crackdown on pro-democracy activists, official media reported on Tuesday.
The military government appeared to blame what it called pending terrorist plots on recent US-led efforts to put Myanmar on the UN Security Council's agenda -- a historic decision that would let the council more closely scrutinise Myanmar's military government and the plight of its people by asking for briefings by UN officials and adopting resolutions.
Police detained the former student leaders starting September 27, when the political party of detained Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi marked its 18th anniversary.
Those detained were prominent activists who had served prison sentences, some for over a decade, for leading a 1988 pro-democracy uprising.
The former student leaders called themselves the "88 Generation Students Group," which has been accused by the government of trying to destabilise the country.
"Authorities have taken in members of the 88 Generation Students Group ... for questioning in order to prevent unrest and instability in the country," said a government statement published Tuesday in the official Kyemon newspaper.
"Information had been received that internal elements are plotting to create unrest and launch terrorist attacks in the country at a time when the US-led attempts to put Myanmar on the UN Security Council allege that Myanmar's affairs constitute a threat to international peace and security," the statement said.
The paper said authorities had received information that exiled groups and rebels had formed a committee with politicians, student activists and certain members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, to incite domestic unrest and instability.
The statement named all five activists, including Min Zeya, 45, and Pyone Cho, 40, who were taken from their homes Saturday after sending the junta's chairman a letter inquiring about the status of three other activists detained on Wednesday.
Last Wednesday, the military had picked up Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kywe -- three supporters of detained pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi -- from their homes. The three have not been seen since.
The military junta took power after crushing the 1988 pro-democracy movement.
It refused to yield two years later when Suu Kyi's political party won a landslide victory in general elections.
Suu Kyi has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, despite worldwide calls for her freedom along with hundreds of other political prisoners.
Other members of the former students' group said on Monday they had started a petition drive to demand the release of Suu Kyi and detained political prisoners.
They garnered 2,000 signatures on the first day, said an activist who identified himself only as Jilmurraymmy to avoid official harassment.
The junta does not tolerate dissent and often arrests critics. The Washington-based US Campaign for Burma has said that a sixth activist, lawyer Aye Myint, was also recently arrested.
The government's statement did not mention him.