Myanmar junta threatens military force

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YANGON, Sep 25 (Reuters) Myanmar's generals threatened military force against any demonstrators today and parked army trucks at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, the assembly point for monks leading the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years.

Witnesses said 5,000 monks and ordinary people still marched into the Shwedagon, Myanmar's holiest shrine and now the symbolic heart of a campaign against 45 years of unbroken military rule in the former Burma.

Earlier vehicles mounted with loudspeakers toured central Yangon, blaring warnings of military action -- an ominous reminder of the junta's crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1988 with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives.

''People are not to follow, encourage or take part in these marches. Action will be taken against those who violate this order,'' the broadcasts said, invoking a law allowing the use of military force to break up illegal protests.

''I'm really worried about the possible outbreak of violence,'' a street vendor said. ''We know from experience that these people never hesitate to do what they want.'' The broadcasts also accused factions within the deeply revered Buddhist monkhood of instigating protest marches ''with intent to incite unrest''.

For the first time since protests against soaring fuel prices began a month ago, soldiers appeared outside the gilded Shwedagon as the international community called on the generals to exercise restraint.

However, the junta, one of the world's most isolated regimes, has seldom listened to the opinions of others.

China, the closest the generals have to a friend, has remained silent apart from calling for national reconciliation and a ''democracy process that is appropriate for the country''.

However, it is not clear what has been happening behind the scenes.

''The regime has a long history of violent reactions to peaceful demonstrations,'' Gareth Evans, head of the International Crisis Group think-tank, said in a statement.

''If serious loss of life is to be averted, those UN members with influence over the government are going to have to come together fast,'' he said in a clear reference to China, Russia and India.


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