Myanmar junta cuts phones to curb protests

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YANGON, Sep 14 (Reuters) Myanmar's military junta has cut off the phones of 50 activists or organisations, including the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), in an apparent attempt to halt weeks of protests, sources said today.

''They have cut off the telephone line to my home and to our headquarters,'' NLD spokesman Myint Thein told Reuters.

Other dissident sources said that, in all, 50 mobile and landline telephones had been cut off, possibly to prevent contact with the foreign media or exile news organisations whose reports are broadcast back into the former Burma on shortwave radio.

''The reason could be to disconnect the line of communication between the activists and foreign media who play a vital role in distributing the activists' message to the people,'' one analyst said.

Official media are giving prominent coverage to top military commanders and cabinet ministers giving alms to Buddhist monks in the main cities of Yangon and Mandalay after reports of monks threatening to turn their backs on junta members.

The monasteries -- key players in a mass uprising against military rule in 1988 -- were reported to be angry at the army's firing of warning shots over a monks' protest march in the town of Pakokku last week.

Although the rigidly controlled papers have given no reasons for the flurry of well-publicised alms-giving, sources close to the monkhood said the junta was approaching senior abbots to get them to keep their younger charges in check.

The threat of a monk boycott of junta members was reported on the Myanmar-language services of the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Thailand-based news organisation.

Monks carried out a similar threat in 1990 shortly after the junta refused to honour the results of elections it lost by a landslide.

Such rejection is taken extremely seriously in the deeply devout Buddhist country, where giving alms to monks is seen as a means of paying respect to ancestors, atoning for bad deeds and storing up merit for rebirth.

Nearly four weeks after they first flared, the sporadic protests against last month's shock fuel price rises appear to be waning.

More than 150 people have been arrested and the atmosphere in the nation of 53 million people remains tense.

Rumours are also circulating that the junta's feared social movement, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), will hold mass rallies condemning the opposition on September 18, the anniversary of the current regime's founding.

However, one government source said the rallies, which were also going to denounce alleged agitation by Western governments, appeared to have been postponed or cancelled.

REUTERS SKB SSC1408

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