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Junta shaken, releases 400 monks

Myanmar’s state press on Sunday trumpeted the release of monks and demonstrators ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss how to handle the junta following its crackdown on street protests.

world Updated: Oct 08, 2007 03:09 IST

Myanmar’s state press on Sunday trumpeted the release of monks and demonstrators ahead of a UN Security Council meeting to discuss how to handle the junta following its crackdown on street protests.

Security Council members under pressure to condemn the military regime after 13 people were killed in its drive to end the escalating pro-democracy rallies were to meet on Monday to debate a draft statement on Myanmar.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Sunday that more than half of the 2,171 people arrested after the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades has been released, repeating figures given late Saturday on state TV.

The government paper specified that nearly 400 of 533 Buddhist monks detained had been “sent back to their respective monasteries.”

Monks led the protests, which at their peak last month attracted 100,000 people to the streets of Yangon, and images of the red-robed clergy bloodied and bruised by security forces shocked many in this deeply Buddhist country.

Army trucks on Sunday remained stationed at Yangon landmarks including the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas — rallying points for last month’s demonstrations — but uniformed troops were keeping a low profile on the streets.

The New Light of Myanmar did not mention the UN Security Council, but analysts have said that the regime is trying to make a few token gestures to ward off a harsh Council statement, or possible sanctions.

Myanmar’s media last week announced that junta leader Senior General Than Shwe was willing to meet with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the offer came with heavy conditions attached.

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Myanmar last week to express global outrage at the junta’s actions, and was allowed to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent most of the last 18 years under house arrest at her lakeside villa.

The United States has led global calls for her release and warned Friday that it may push for UN sanctions, including an arms embargo, if the ruling generals pursue a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

After Gambari briefed the UN on Friday, the United States, Britain and France circulated a draft of a non-binding statement condemning Myanmar’s government, which is due to be debated Monday.

“The Security Council condemns the violent repression by the government of Myanmar of peaceful demonstrations, including the use of force against religious figures and institutions,” the text said.

Efforts to chastise the regime could however be scuppered by Myanmar’s allies China and Russia, who may work to get the language in the draft toned down and could veto any attempts to impose sanctions on the junta.

Across the globe on Saturday, activists took to the streets in cities from London to Sydney for a day of protest against Myanmar’s bloody crackdown. About 300 people also gathered at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok on Sunday.