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'Crackdown on pro-democracy protesters goes on'

Myanmar's military Junta says it was still-hunting for protesters who took part in a recent pro-democracy uprising.

world Updated: Oct 17, 2007 08:56 IST

Myanmar's military Junta said on Wednesday it was still-hunting for protesters who took part in a recent pro-democracy uprising, noting that nearly 3,000 had been detained since their crackdown started and hundreds remained in custody. The official statement from the junta was published on the front-page of The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, as a UN envoy pressed Asian nations to take the lead in resolving the Myanmar crisis.

"Those who led, got involved in and supported the unrest which broke out in September were called in and are being interrogated," the junta said in its statement. "Some are still being called in for questioning and those who should be released will be." The statement said that 2,927 people had been arrested since the crackdown started and nearly 500 were still in custody. In their last tally of arrests, released on October 8, the Junta said that nearly 2,100 had been arrested.

Everyone released from custody was required to sign "pledges" the statement said, without elaborating.

Protesters freed from custody have said in interviews that they had to sign statements saying they would not take part in protests or support the pro-democracy movement.

The Junta has said 10 people were killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the September 26-27 crackdown. Diplomats and dissidents say they believe the death toll is higher and that up to 6,000 people were seized, including thousands of monks who led the rallies.

Myanmar was under increasing international pressure to call off its crackdown, as Japan canceled a multimillion-dollar grant and China threw its weight behind a UN envoy's efforts to ease the crisis.

But ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, said it would not support any sanctions against the military regime.

China _ a longtime ally of Myanmar _ said it backed UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari's mission to the region. Gambari is seeking to rally Asian countries to take the lead in pressing Myanmar to reconcile with pro-democracy groups, which have seen hundreds of their members detained and beaten following last month's protests. He was to leave Malaysia for Indonesia on Wednesday, and also make stops in Japan, India and China before traveling on to Myanmar. He started his six-nation tour in Thailand.
Japan, Malaysia's biggest aid donor, had already said it would suspend some assistance in response to the death of Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai, who was among those killed during the crackdown.

In addition, the government would cancel a grant worth 552 million yen (US$4.7 million; euro3.3 million) for a business education center, slated for the Yangon University campus, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said in Tokyo.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Yang told reporters Tuesday that Myanmar's recent calm after last month's violence was "the result of hard work and cooperation from all sides."

China is considered a key country in the effort to persuade the junta to open talks with the pro-democracy movement, because of its close relationship with the military regime. It also is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, giving it veto power over any U.N. action. It has been uncooperative in past efforts to pressure the junta.

The UN Security Council issued its first-ever statement on Myanmar last week, condemning the clampdown and calling for the release of all political prisoners.

The opposition National League for Democracy party of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday that more than 300 party members had been detained since August, including 60 within the past week.

Myanmar's military leaders have rebuffed calls for reforms, saying the only way to bring change is to follow the junta's seven-step "road map" to democracy, which is supposed to culminate with elections at an unspecified date.

So far, only the plan's first stage _ drawing up guidelines for a new constitution _ has been completed, and that took more than a decade. Critics say the road map is a ruse to allow the military to stay in power.

First Published: Oct 17, 2007 08:39 IST