Source AP ©

Myanmar's military search for Buddhist monks

"Bogus" Buddhist monks led mass anti-government protests. Myanmar's military rulers are hunting for them.

The people who organized the protests are "ex-convicts" and they will be charged under existing laws, according to a report in the New Light of Myanmar, the mouthpiece of the junta.

"Most of the monks from the National Front of Monks are ex-convicts and the bogus monks who led the protests in violation of cleric rules" will be charged, Religious Affairs Minister Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung told senior monks at a meeting Wednesday, the newspaper reported.

The report did not elaborate on the specific violations or proposed charges.

The minister said authorities had detained several monks for questioning but were releasing those who had unwittingly taken part in the protests. He did not elaborate.

Buddhist monks enjoy great respect in Myanmar and the violent suppression of their protests has seriously hurt the junta's reputation.

In efforts to counter this, state newspapers have been filled with stories suggesting that the monks who organized the protest are a tiny minority in the monkhood, and report virtually daily on junta members visiting monasteries to make donations.

Relatively small protests against economic policies erupted Aug. 19 after the government raised fuel prices, but the rallies mushroomed into a national movement against the government after Buddhist monks joined in.

The movement was crushed when troops fired on demonstrators in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, on Sept. 26 and 27.

The regime has said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks who participated in the rallies.

Thura Myint Aung also said no monks were killed during the suppression of the protests. Some dissident groups have suggested the contrary.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Oct. 7 said the authorities had arrested 533 monks "to differentiate between real monks and bogus ones," and that 398 monks were subsequently returned to their monasteries.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar called on the government "to address the political, economic, humanitarian, and human rights issues that are the concern of its people," in a statement released Thursday.

The peaceful protests were started because of economic hardship and "clearly demonstrated the everyday struggle to meet basic needs," by the majority of the people, said U.N. said in a statement released Wednesday.