Two Myanmar monks arrested for anti-junta protests

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YANGON, Sep 16 (Reuters) Two Buddhist monks have been arrested in military-ruled Myanmar, the first to be detained since monks joined anti-government protests two weeks ago, legal sources said.

They were among 200 monks who marched late last month in Sittwe in northwest Myanmar against a large increase in fuel prices, which triggered sporadic nationwide protests.

''These two monks were taken to Yangon on August 31. Nothing is known about their fate,'' said a legal source, who declined to be named.

Two men who gave water to monks during the same march were sentenced by a court last week to two years in jail for public mischief, the source said.

Official media have given 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 members of the junta.

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 two weeks ago.

The Myanmar-language services of several foreign broadcasters have reported an alliance of monks planned a boycott of the regime next week unless it apologised for the Pakokku incident.

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 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.

REUTERS SR AS2327

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