Myanmar junta hunts four monk protest leaders

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YANGON, Oct 6 (Reuters) Myanmar's junta is hunting four monks it accused of leading the biggest anti-government protests in nearly 20 years in the main city Yangon, state television said.

MRTV said more than 400 monks and 188 men and women had been freed since they were detained in raids by troops and police on 18 Buddhist monasteries in and around Yangon last week.

''Four activist monks escaped arrest when their monasteries were raided and officials requested senior monks to help expose and find them for the interests of the religion,'' MRTV said yesterday.

Another 109 monks and nine men were still being questioned.

It did not give details from other towns and cities where protests were crushed.

The junta has said ''the least possible force'' was used to end demonstrations that began with small marches against huge fuel price rises in August and escalated after troops fired over the heads of protesting monks.

It says 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but Western governments say the toll is likely to be far higher.

UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, addressing the UN Security Council yesterday after a four-day visit to the former Burma, said the ruthless crackdown on protests that grew to 100,000 strong in Yangon ''can have serious international repercussions''.

He cited ''disturbing reports of abuses being committed by security and non-uniformed elements, particularly at night during curfew, including raids on private homes, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and disappearances''.

An exiled Burmese analyst said earlier this week people who applauded the protest marches could face two to five years in jail. Leaders could face 20 years.

Myanmar's UN Ambassador Kyaw Tint Swe said many of those detained had now been released.

''To date ... a total of 2,095 people, including 722 monks, have been released,'' he said. ''More releases will follow.'' REUTERS PD BST0920

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