Myanmar monks march ahead of planned junta boycott

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YANGON, Sep 17 (Reuters) About 400 Buddhist monks staged a peaceful protest march in central Myanmar today on the eve of a planned religious boycott of members of the ruling military junta and their associates, residents said.

The march, in the town of Kyaukpadaung, 650 km north of Yangon, passed off without incident and there were no arrests, they said.

''They didn't shout any slogans or demand anything but just chanted prayers and holy scriptures as they marched peacefully.

Onlookers paid obeisance to them,'' one person said.

The Myanmar-language services of foreign broadcasters have reported that some Buddhist monks will refuse to accept alms from anybody associated with the ruling generals in protest at soldiers firing shots to disperse a monk protest march two weeks ago.

The nationwide boycott being called for looks unlikely, although sporadic outbursts of defiance were expected, especially in the provinces, analysts said.

The boycott, in which monks refuse to accept alms and offerings from well-wishers, is taken extremely seriously in the deeply devout country.

Without such rites, a Buddhist loses all chance of attaining nirvana, or release from the cycle of rebirth.

Although the army has run Myanmar since a 1962 coup, September.

18 is the anniversary of the latest incarnation of the junta, which now goes by the name of State Peace and Development Council.

Monks launched a similar boycott in 1990 shortly after the generals refused to honour the results of a general election they lost by a landslide.

As many as 20,000 monks are thought to have taken part in that boycott, which was followed by a crackdown in which several dozen monks were arrested. Some died in custody while others fled from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The monasteries were key players in a nationwide uprising against military rule in 1988 and analysts say the generals are at pains to treat them carefully this time around.

Official papers have given prominent coverage to men in uniform making donations -- and having them accepted -- in temples, especially in the second city of Mandalay which is home to 300,000 monks.

However, the media have also been reporting meetings of top officials of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the junta's feared social organisation which has played a part in breaking up protests against soaring fuel prices.

''I think the regime seems to be trying to prevent the boycott and at the same time making preparations if the worst comes to the worst,'' one retired government official said.

REUTERS SKB PM1630

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