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Monks in Burma March For First Time Since Crackdown


More than one-hundred Buddhist monks have marched in Burma for the first time since the military government used military force to crush pro-democracy protests last month. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong, the march came as a human-rights group says Burma's military continues to recruit children to fill the ranks of its powerful army.

Witnesses say the march in Pakokku, northwest of Rangoon, was peaceful, and the monks did not make any political statement. They say the monks prayed for several minutes and then returned to their monasteries.

Nevertheless, it was the first time Buddhist monks have appeared in force on Burmese streets since a violent crack down on pro-democracy protests last month that killed at least 10 people.

Hundreds of monks were reportedly arrested during the crackdown, with many beaten, and - according to witnesses - some of them killed.

It was a protest against rising prices by monks in the same city, Pakokku, in early September, that sparked demonstrations across the country. The demonstrations quickly became political in nature, with marchers calling for democracy, and monks were in the forefront of those marches.

Since the crackdown, intense international pressure has been brought to bear on Burma's military government, to lift oppression and implement political reforms of all kinds.

On Tuesday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch called on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Burma for forcibly recruiting child soldiers.

Jo Becker, a child-rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, says the military has been recruiting boys as young as 10 years old.

"Given the horrible track record that we see in Burma, we believe that sanctions are clearly warranted in this case," he said.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed new financial sanctions on Burma's senior leaders and businessmen closely linked to the government.

The U.N. special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, is expected to make a return visit to the country soon, possibly as early as Saturday.

Gambari is attempting to convince the military government to reach an accommodation with the pro-democracy opposition.

Last week, Gambari traveled to Burma's neighbors, including India and China, urging them to use their influence to help bring about change. On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher raised the same issue with officials of Burma's main ally, China.

The military has ruled the country since 1962.

The Human Rights Watch report suggests that the military is losing its appeal, with soldiers deserting the armed forces because of poor pay. The group says the depletion is prompting the recruitment of child soldiers, who are often beaten and given little training before being sent to fight Burma's insurgent ethnic groups.

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