IMAGE: MYANMAR MONASTERY
AP
Residents pass a Buddhist monastery as they go about their daily business in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/5/2007 3:40:41 PM ET 2007-10-05T19:40:41

Myanmar said Friday it had detained hundreds of Buddhist monks during last week’s bloody crackdown of pro-democracy protests, and that security forces were searching for four of the monks who led the demonstrations.

Of more than 500 monks who were detained, 109 were still being questioned, the government said on state-run television.

The junta on Sept. 26-27 crushed the demonstrations that began in mid-August, inspired largely by thousands of monks, who are revered in Myanmar, marching in the streets. The government says 10 people were killed in the crackdown but dissident groups put the death toll at more than 200.

A government official met senior monks in Yangon on Friday and asked them to “expose four monks who are at large, who took the leading role in the protest,” the announcement said. The names of the four were given to senior clergy, it added.

The announcement apparently was meant to show that the ruling generals still have high regard for the Buddhist clergy despite the crackdown that targeted the monks.

In a rare meeting, acting U.S. Ambassador Shari Villarosa, a vocal critic of the crackdown, told Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint that Myanmar must end its violent suppression of peaceful demonstrators.

“It was not a terribly edifying meeting,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. “What she heard in private was not very different than what we hear from the government in public.”

Opposition wary of talks
Also Friday, a U.N. envoy who met with Myanmar’s military ruler earlier this week said he was “cautiously encouraged” that Senior Gen. Than Shwe is prepared to hold talks with detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under certain conditions.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council on his four-day trip to Myanmar following the crackdown, U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari said Than Shwe’s meeting with the Nobel laureate should occur as soon as possible. “This is an hour of historic opportunity for Myanmar,” he said.

The government said Suu Kyi must abandon “confrontation,” give up ”obstructive measures” and support for sanctions and “utter devastation,” a phrase it did not explain.

But an opposition spokesman called the offer unreasonable.

But Nyan Win, spokesman for the Nobel peace laureate’s National League for Democracy, said the conditions were unreasonable.

“They are asking her to confess to offenses that she has not committed,” he said.

“This is just PR ahead of the (U.N.) Security Council meeting,” added Maung Maung, a member of a self-styled Myanmar government in exile in Bangkok, Thailand. “If they really want to talk, she needs to be released first so she has freedom of association and freedom of speech to engage in a dialogue,” he told reporters.

Georgetown University Myanmar expert David Steinberg added that “it is very difficult to see how that will be productive because basically he has asked Aung San Suu Kyi publicly to surrender before the meeting takes place.

“You could say it’s a psychological ploy and at the same time it’s very clear that the military is not making any concessions," Steinberg said.

Nyan Win demanded Suu Kyi be allowed to respond in public.

That is unlikely. The only time Suu Kyi has been seen in public since she was last detained in May 2003 was during one monk-led demonstration when protesters were inexplicably allowed through the barricades sealing off her street.

Junta comments on arrests
State media said the government official told the senior monks that many junior monks and civilians took part in the protests at the instigation of “a political party, members of the 88 Generation Students and dissidents.”

It did not name the political party, but it referred to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The 88 Generation Students is a dissident group, which takes its name from the last pro-democracy movement in 1988 that was crushed by the ruling generals. At least 3,000 people are believed to have been killed in that crackdown.

The junta statement said security forces “systematically controlled” the latest protests, and searched 18 monasteries.

Authorities initially detained 513 monks, one novice, 167 men and 30 women lay disciples, but most were released, state media said. It said “109 monks and nine men are still being questioned.”

On Thursday, state media has said nearly 2,100 people were detained in the crackdown, with almost 700 released. Dissident groups say about 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.

The official also told the monks that nonreligious material was seized from the monastery, including pornographic videos, literature belonging to Suu Kyi’s party, headbands printed with a Nazi swastika or a U.S. flag.

The official denied foreign media reports that monks were killed and injured in the crackdown, the statement said.

It said the body found floating in Pazundaung Creek in eastern Yangon last week was not that of a monk, as reported by a dissident group, but of a man “with a piece of saffron robe tied round the neck.”

It blamed “internal and external destructive elements of inciting the monks who could tarnish the honor of the religion.”

Talk of sanctions
Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current junta came to power after routing the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. Suu Kyi’s party won elections in 1990 but the junta refused to accept the results.

Suu Kyi has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest and was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her democracy campaign.

The diplomatic moves by the military leaders appeared aimed at staving off economic sanctions while also pleasing giant neighbor China, which worries the unrest could cause problems for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Many governments have urged stern U.N. Security Council action against Myanmar, but China and Russia have ruled out any council action, saying the crisis does not threaten international peace and security.

“No international imposed solution can help the situation,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Gunagya said Thursday.

Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union — the U.N. telecoms agency — said the government’s decision to block Internet access violated its citizens’ right to communicate.

Secure access to the Internet is a basic human freedom that “needs to be preserved, no matter what,” Toure said.

Life in Yangon was slowly returning to normal but security remained tight in downtown areas where protests were crushed last week. A half-dozen military trucks were stationed near the Sule Pagoda, a flash point of the unrest.

The typically busy area around the city’s famed Shwedagon Pagoda was eerily quiet, with residents avoiding the area outside the temple where monks were beaten by troops.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Inside Myanmar

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