Myanmar junta shuts AIDS monastery and expels monks

YANGON - The Myanmar junta has shut down a Yangon monastery which served as a hospice for HIV/AIDS patients and expelled its monks, an opposition lawyer said on Friday.

"The authorities sealed Maggin monastery yesterday afternoon," and expelled the monks, said Aung Thein of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

"The authorities did not give them any documents and did not say under which law the action was taken, so we cannot do anything to provide them with legal assistance," he added.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari criticised the closure of the monastery, which was used as a hospice for HIV/AIDS sufferers and a refuge for provincial patients who came to Yangon for medicines.

"Any actions that run counter to the spirit of national reconciliation, any action that will undermine the dialogue between the government and those who disagree with the policy of the government should be avoided," Gambari said in Phnom Penh.

"And I'd like to repeat that," he told reporters during a visit to Cambodia on a regional tour before going back to the former Burma next month for more talks with the government and probably Suu Kyi.

The abbots of Maggin monastery have long had the reputation of supporting pro-democracy campaigns, such as the one led by monks in September which the junta crushed ruthlessly.

The suppression caused such international outrage the junta allowed Gambari to visit and it appointed a senior general as intermediary with Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the past 18 years under some form of detention.

Gambari is due to make his third visit to Myanmar in December since the street protests were ended, but he said in Phnom Penh no dates had been fixed yet.