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Burma Sentences 4 Activists to Hard Labor as UN Human Rights Envoy Visits

The Burmese opposition says military authorities sentenced four activists to prison terms with hard labor on the same day that a U.N. human rights expert began a mission to Burma.

Opposition members say a Burmese court sentenced the four women to two years in prison Monday as U.N. special rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana arrived in Rangoon.

Defense lawyers say the women were arrested last October for donating religious literature to a Buddhist monastery in the eastern town of Dagon. Burma's military rulers charged the activists with disturbing the peace.

The four women also had been holding regular prayers at Rangoon's Shwedagon pagoda for the release of Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.N. human rights expert Quintana met with the defense lawyers in Rangoon Monday. The lawyers say they briefed him on what they consider to be military abuses of the country's legal system.

Defense lawyer Kyaw Hoe says the opposition will appeal the court's conviction of the female activists - Naw Ohn Hla, Myint Myint San, Cho Cho Lwin and Cho Cho Aye.

Quintana continued his mission Tuesday by traveling to western Burma's Rakhine state, home to the country's Rakhine minority. He also is expected to visit a prison in the state.

Human rights group Amnesty International says it fears Burma's military will intensify repression of ethnic minority activists in the run-up to elections this year.

In a report released Tuesday, the group says it gathered accounts of such repression from more than 700 activists from Burma's seven largest ethnic minorities - including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin and Chin - covering a two-year period from August of 2007.

Amnesty says Burmese authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and in some cases tortured or killed ethnic minority activists. The report says minority groups also have faced extensive surveillance, harassment and discrimination when trying to carry out legitimate activities.

Burma's military has said it will hold the country's first national and local elections in two decades later this year, but has not set a date.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been under some form of detention for 14 of the last 20 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.