updated 10/17/2007 12:13:17 AM ET 2007-10-17T04:13:17

Myanmar’s military junta acknowledged Wednesday that it detained nearly 3,000 people during a crackdown on recent pro-democracy protests, with hundreds still remaining in custody.

The official statement on the front-page of The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, said authorities were still hunting for demonstrators who took part in the recent uprising.

“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. “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, the junta said that nearly 2,100 had been detained.

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

The announcement came a day after Japan canceled a multimillion dollar grant to protest the bloody crackdown and U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari pressed Asian nations Tuesday to take the lead in resolving the crisis.

China, which has been uncooperative in past efforts to pressure Myanmar’s military rulers, said it supported Gambari’s mission. As Myanmar’s closest ally and a permanent member of the Security Council, China is considered key in pushing for change in the Southeast Asian nation.

Japan had already said it would suspend some assistance in response to the death of Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, among at least 10 people killed when troops fired into crowds of peaceful protesters during the Sept. 26-27 crackdown. Video footage of Nagai’s death appeared to show a soldier shooting the journalist at close range on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

Aid from Japan
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tuesday that the government was canceling a grant worth $4.7 million for a business education center slated for the Yangon University campus.

In fiscal year 2006, Japan provided grants and technical assistance totaling $26.1 million to Myanmar, according to the latest ministry figures.

Machimura said the decision was in response to the crackdown and followed a U.N. statement condemning the violence. The U.N. Security Council issued its first-ever statement on Myanmar last week, condemning the junta’s actions and calling for the release of all political prisoners.

Gambari was in Malaysia seeking help from Asian nations to resolve the crisis in Myanmar. The U.N. wants the junta to start negotiations with Suu Kyi.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Yang told reporters at the 17th congress of the ruling communist party that Myanmar’s recent calm after last month’s violence was “the result of hard work and cooperation from all sides.”

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations would fully support Gambari’s negotiation efforts. But he ruled out sanctions.

Christopher Hill, one of Washington’s top diplomats on Asia, said that China and the ASEAN should use their influence to help fix the “atrocious situation” in Myanmar.

Earlier this month, Gambari met with the junta’s leader, Gen. Than Shwe, to convey the world’s outrage. He also met twice with Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

‘Road map’ to democracy
But 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.

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