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Myanmar releases detained monks

world Updated: Oct 07, 2007 09:12 IST
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Myanmar's Junta has released hundreds of Buddhist monks arrested in a crackdown on the largest anti-regime protests in 19 years, but few see such lenience as a sign of positive change in the brutal regime's tactics towards dissent, diplomats and activists said Saturday.

The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, announced on Saturday that 404 of the 513 monks arrested since September 26 had already been released from prison, together with 30 women who had been caught in the authorities dragnet of 18 monasteries in Yangon, citing military sources.

The regime previously said that altogether 2,093 people had been arrested in their latest crackdown on dissent, of which 692 had been released.

Authorities now acknowledge that they raided 18 monasteries in Yangon last month as part of the crackdown on the monk-led rebellion, which started on September 18 with peaceful barefoot marches through the streets of the city and peaked on Sep 25 with 100,000 anti-government protesters.

Myanmar's junta crushed the "saffron revolution" on Sep 26 and 27, killing at least 10 people, according to official figures. Anti-government activists in Yangon say the death toll is closer to 200.

Residents near the Yeywey crematorium in Yangon saw government personnel burning 71 bodies on the night of Sep 26, and people living near Insein prison have witnessed three to four dead bodies being brought out nightly from the notorious jail, where many of the protesters were detained and reportedly beaten.

In is unlikely that the full extent of the atrocities committed against Myanmar's revered monk hood and the laymen who joined their peaceful protests will ever be disclosed.

Calls for an independent investigation into the events have been ignored. Confidence in the United Nations' ability to do anything to pressure the regime is limited and dwindling fast, diplomats said.

UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari visited Myanmar between Sep 29 to Oct 2 to deliver a strong message of disapproval to the country's ruling generals and returned to New York Thursday with a report for the UN Security Council.

After the 15-member council met Friday it failed to reach a consensus on future actions against the regime or even a joint statement of condemnation.

What was decided was that Gambari would visit Myanmar again in mid-November, but whether he visits depends on whether or not the junta grants him a visa.

"After his critical statements in New York I doubt they will let Gambari come back again," said Lars Backstrom, the Finnish ambassador to Myanmar and Thailand.

A deputy director of the Myanmar Foreign Ministry in Naypyidaw, the country's new capital, briefed Backstrom and the Danish ambassador Friday.

"There were no surprises," said Backstrom of the briefing. Like many Myanmar-watchers, the diplomat expressed pessimism about Myanmar's prospects for democracy in the aftermath of the latest protests and crackdowns.

"This was just another sad chapter in a very sad history of the country," said Backstorm in an interview in Bangkok with DPA.

Senior General Than Shwe, who heads the ruling junta, has offered to meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on the precondition that she drops her calls for "confrontation" and support for western sanctions against the country.

Ironically, Suu Kyi has not been able to call for anything over the past four years as she has been kept in near complete isolation under house arrest in Yangon. She has no telephone, and the last person she has met besides her maid and personal doctor was Gambari, who held talks with her on Sep 30 and again on Oct 2.

Observers speculate that Than Shwe has set preconditions for a dialogue with Suu Kyi in order to blame their eventual failure on the 1991 Nobel peace prize laureate. "The military has the upper hand. That's the fact," said Backstrom. "Time is on their side."