Myanmar jails alleged protesters - relatives

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YANGON, Oct 16 (Reuters) Closed courts have sentenced five Myanmar protesters, all members of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party, to long jail terms, relatives said today.

Those sentenced in Rakhine state, 250 miles (400 km) northwest of Yangon, included 85-year-old Kyaw Khine who relatives said was not even in town during the protests against 45 years of military rule put down ruthlessly by the army.

Kyaw Khine, chairman of the Taunggok NLD, was jailed for seven and a half years yesterday, they said.

Ko Min Aung, an NLD official from the same town, received the same sentence following his arrest in Taunggok on his return home from a meeting at party headquarters in Yangon on October 13.

''Ko Min Aung was sentenced to seven and a half years and Sein Kyaw to five years after a closed trial in Thandwe today,'' Ko Min Aung's wife told Reuters by telephone.

NLD members Tun Kyi and Than Pe were sentenced to four and a half years in Thandwe last week and Sein Kyaw, the NLD chairman in Gwa Township, was taken to Thandwe to face the close trial on Tuesday, the relatives and friends said.

The closed trials were held despite appeals from abroad for the release of thousands of people arrested when the junta sent in the army to end huge demonstrations which began as small protests against fuel price rises in August and escalated as Buddhist monks joined in.

Arrests are still going on in nightly raids and state-run media have said opposition to the generals' ''seven-step path to democracy'', which critics say would leave them in charge, would not be tolerated.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, now touring Asia seeking a common approach to persuading the generals to compromise with Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention, appealed on Monday for the arrests to stop.

On the same day, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper showed no sign the junta was prepared to relent, despite strongman Than Shwe agreeing to meet Suu Kyi if she gave up key positions.

''We will not deviate from our path,'' the newspaper said in a commentary.

''Those who sincerely want to hold hands with us are welcome,'' it said. ''We will get rid of the barriers and obstacles on the way.'' REUTERS RSA RAI2135

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