Myanmar junta releases 229 detained monks

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Yangon, Oct 3: Myanmar's junta released 229 monks rounded up last week in a crackdown on the biggest anti-government protests in nearly 20 years, one of those freed said today.

The monk, in his mid-20s but too nervous to give any more details of his identity, said he and 79 brethren were returned to their Mingala Yama monastery in Yangon shortly after midnight.

The remaining 16 of 96 arrested during a raid on the monastery -- among hundreds arrested in similar raids on at least 15 Yangon monasteries -- were expected to be freed soon, he said.

The monk said they had been held at a former government technical institute in northern Yangon's Insein district, and been subjected to verbal -- but not physical -- abuse during interrogation.

''We were forced to change into civilian dress before they interrogated us,'' the monk said. ''They questioned us day and night but we were fed two meals a day.'' On their return, they were allowed to wear their maroon monastic robes again, suggesting they were not being disrobed.

The monks were removed from the monastery by officials who said they were being taken to an early morning ''charity breakfast'', the freed monk said. ''We were told a lie,'' he said.

People living near some of raided monasteries reported monks being hit, kicked and beaten as they were carted off in trucks. Hundreds were detained and a diplomat who visited one monastery said told Reuters there were signs of ''severe beating'' at the gates of the Ngwe Kya Yan monastery.

Nearly 150 women, some with shaven heads suggesting they were Buddhist nuns, had also been taken from the Insein technical centre to Kyakkasan racetrack in preparation for their release, a relative of an official involved said.

The person said the dresses of two or three of the women, some of whom were in their 70s, were drenched in blood. It was not immediately possible to verify the account. The monks have reported six of their brethren killed in the raids and clashes with riot police and soldiers.

A photograph posted on the exile Democratic Voice of Burma Web site shows the body of a monk lying in a ditch, although there has been no way to confirm any of the rumours sweeping across Yangon of monks being beaten and killed.


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