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Myanmar rulers lash out at West, foreign media for stoking recent protests

YANGON, Myanmar — A dissident group said Thursday that guards at Myanmar's detention centers have beaten protesters rounded up from last month's crushed pro-democracy demonstrations and refused lifesaving medical care for some, resulting in their deaths.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based shortwave radio station and Web site run by dissident journalists, said it based its report on interviews with at least a dozen released detainees. They had been held in the aftermath of the Sept. 26-27 crackdown that has spurred international condemnation of the ruling junta.

"They beat everyone, including women and girls," the group quoted an unidentified female detainee as saying. "I was beaten myself. Monks were targeted and they were not only beaten but also verbally abused by security officers.

"I heard people shouting and crying from the interrogation room, and then I saw an army medical surgeon carrying people away," the woman said. The group said she was held at the Government Technical Institute detention center in Yangon for five days.

DVB, which has supplied reliable information before, also reported that a 48-year-old detainee, U Than Aung, died Thursday at a detention center in Yangon. He was arrested Sept. 27, suffered severe internal injuries, and died when he was not given immediate medical attention, the group said, citing sources close to the institute.

The group, which has members inside Myanmar, also released a video of an unidentified man who said "dozens" of detainees died. Another man was quoted as saying he saw two people die from severe beatings at Yangon City Hall. One boy died when authorities failed to give him medical treatment for a gunshot wound, and then even denied him water to drink, the group quoted him as saying.

The government has said 10 people were killed and nearly 2,100 arrested in last month's demonstrations, with 700 later released. Diplomats and dissidents say the death toll is likely much higher and up to 6,000 people were seized, including hundreds of monks who led the protests.

A Thailand-based exile group said a Myanmar opposition party member died during interrogation, and two activists were arrested Wednesday.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said security officers had been threatening dissidents' relatives and neighbors attempting to find those involved in last month's pro-democracy protests.

The association, comprised of around 100 former inmates, has put out a report describing homosexual rape, electric shocks to the genitals, partial suffocation by water, burning of flesh with hot wax and other abuse. Human rights groups have long accused the military government of abuse and torture of prisoners — a charge the junta denies.

Authorities, meanwhile, continued their hunt for dissidents and their supporters.

A popular Myanmar actor and social activist, Kyaw Thu, and his wife, Myint Myint Pe Khin, were arrested Wednesday, relatives said. Kyaw Thu had openly supported the protest and set up a support committee offering food, water and medical treatment to demonstrating Buddhist monks.

Kyaw Thu went into hiding when his colleague, Zarganar, a comedian known for his anti-government jibes, was arrested Sept. 26. It was not known what happened to them after their arrests.

The embattled junta lashed out at Western powers and foreign media Thursday, accusing them of fomenting last month's protests.

The state-owned New Light of Myanmar newspaper described protesters, who continue to be hunted by the military across the country, as "stooges of foreign countries putting on a play written by their foreign masters."

In what has become a daily staple of the government press, the newspaper said 30,000 pro-junta demonstrators gathered in the remote Chin state Wednesday to support the regime's national convention and forthcoming constitution, which critics say is a sham.

It also singled out "big powers" and radio stations — the British Broadcasting Corp., Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — as being behind the demonstrations.

The United States and other countries have pushed for international sanctions, but China said Thursday that only a more conciliatory approach would work.

"We believe that the situation there is relaxing and turning in a positive direction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said. "The international community should help in a constructive way to help Myanmar to realize stability, reconciliation, democracy and development."

The ruling council's top leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, offered to meet detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi following a visit early this month by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari. Both Suu Kyi's political party and the military have taken some conciliatory steps.

But no mention of talks was made Wednesday, and the official press stressed the regime was bent on following its own timetable to a so-called "roadmap to democracy," which includes the new constitution and referendum to be followed by elections at an unspecified date.

Critics describe such a scenario as a sham to hoodwink world opinion and silence domestic opposition.

The top U.S. diplomat in Yangon said the heightened international attention will pressure its rulers to open the country and reconcile with pro-democracy advocates.

"That the international community is paying more attention is hopeful," said Shari Villarosa. "Hopefully this will help mobilize pressure not only from the United States but from all the countries in the region."

She told reporters in Hawaii that nations needed to "push it and push it and push it some more."

Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country. India, China, Russia, and other nations supply Myanmar with weapons that the military uses to commit human rights abuses and to bolster its power, the New York-based group said.

A delegation of Myanmar's air force, meanwhile, is visiting Russia, one of Myanmar's main arms suppliers, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

Russian air force spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky said the Myanmar representatives would meet with military and defense industry officials, and visit air and space defense and research centers, according to the report.