Myanmar junta frees more protesters

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YANGON, Oct 27 (Reuters) Myanmar's junta has freed 87 more people arrested during last month's crackdown, including more than 50 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), party spokesman Nyan Win said.

As well as 12 monks and 14 students, the released detainees included Hla Pe, an 81-year-old NLD Central Executive Committee member, and Tayzaw Bartha, a 76-year-old Buddhist monk arrested in early August for staging a lone protest outside City Hall.

Official media say 10 people were killed when soldiers were sent in a month ago to end the biggest anti-junta protests in two decades, although Western governments say the real toll is likely to be far higher.

The junta also says nearly 3,000 people and Buddhist monks were arrested, although all but a few hundred have been released after questioning.

However, suspicions remain that the generals in charge of the former Burma are emptying prisons in Yangon and sending political detainees to far corners of the country ahead of scheduled visits next month by two United Nations special envoys.

The UN's main point-man on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, is due to visit in the first week of November at the end of a six-country Asian diplomatic tour to try to coerce the generals into talks with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

UN Human rights rapporteur Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is slated to fly in shortly afterwards. It will be the Brazilian law professor's first visit in four years, and he has told reporters he will be demanding unrestricted access to all prisons.

Family sources and eye witnesses said hundreds of detainees had been moved from Yangon's notorious Insein Central Jail in the past week, and were believed to be headed to prisons in distant provinces.

''About 60 prisoners were sent to Mandalay by train on Thursday.

Some of them will be sent to other far-flung places,'' one relative of a detainee said.

In the past, visits to prisons by Pinheiro and the International Red Cross have led to a marked improvement in the conditions for political detainees, thought to number around 1,100 even before the crackdown arrests.

The Red Cross was forced to end its prison visits programme a year ago because the junta demanded all interviews with detainees been conducted with a local official in attendance.

REUTERS LPB RN1207

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