British monk detained in Myanmar

YANGON - A senior British monk is being held in a notorious Myanmar prison, British diplomats confirmed Tuesday, one of a host of Buddhist clerics rounded up during a recent police raid on a monastery.

Some 20 monks, including Uttara who was visiting from Britain, were arrested last week when scores of police and monks descended on a Yangon monastery in a controversial late-night swoop apparently triggered by a dispute over ownership of the property.

A spokesman for the British embassy in Yangon told AFP that consular officials had visited Uttara in the city's Insein prison early Tuesday and would attend his next court hearing expected on June 20.

"We have pressed the authorities to ensure that he has full access to legal representation and medical assistance as required," the spokesman said.

Uttara is believed to have moved to Britain in the early 1990s, gaining citizenship and becoming a prominent figure in the Myanmar British community. He was back in Myanmar on a working visit.

The monastery raid has generated heated debate in Myanmar, where monks are revered, after members of the state-backed clergy were seen taking part in the June 10 raid.

While some 15 monks were released a day later, Uttara and four other monks remain in custody. They have been unfrocked, or stripped of their clerical status, after being accused of failing to obey orders from senior monks and defaming the religion.

According to a report last week in the state-run English-language newspaper New Light of Myanmar, the ownership dispute stems from a 2002 decision by the then-ruling junta to hand the monastery over to national Buddhist authorities.

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