Myanmar junta raises crackdown toll to 15 - UN

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BANGKOK, Nov 16 (Reuters) Myanmar's military government has acknowledged that at least 15 people were killed in September's crackdown on the biggest democracy protests in nearly 20 years, UN human rights envoy Paulo Sergio Pinheiro said today.

The figure includes 14 people taken from Yangon's main hospital to the city's Htain Bin crematorium, and a Japanese video journalist shot when soldiers were sent in to clear the streets of the monk-led demonstrations, Pinheiro said.

''This number is only for Yangon,'' Pinheiro told a news conference in Bangkok after a five-day trip to Myanmar to get to the bottom of the crackdown. ''I'm not in a position to say whether this is an accurate number.'' The former Burma's official media have so far put the death toll at 10, although Western governments say the real figure is likely to be far higher.

Pinheiro declined to go into details of the cause of death of the 14, although he said he had post mortem documents from the hospital and would be revealing more in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in two weeks.

''In my report, I will give a number,'' said the Brazilian law professor, who was making his first visit to Myanmar in four years.

The junta said no Buddhist monks were among the dead, Pinheiro said.

At the height of the crackdown, monks reported that at least five of their brethren were killed when soldiers and pro-regime thugs raided monasteries thought to be coordinating the protests.

Pinheiro was not allowed to meet detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit, but was able to see five prominent political prisoners at Yangon's notorious Insein jail.

These included Su Su Nway, a labour rights activist arrested this week, and Win Tin, the 78-year-old journalist who has the dubious honour of being Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner after 18 years in jail.

Pinheiro also urged the international community not to let up the unprecedented pressure on the junta, or allow itself to be divided over issues such as sanctions -- a tactic favoured by the West but opposed by China, India and Southeast Asia.

''If you want to achieve some progress in Myanmar, we can't have a cacophony of policies by member states. We need to have coordination,'' he said.

Pinheiro did not reveal details of the conversations he had with the political prisoners, other than to read a short poem called ''My Time In Prison'' given to him by Win Tin: ''Will death be my release? As long as democracy and human rights are not within reach, I decline my release. I am prepared to stay.'' Reuters ARB DB2021

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