YANGON, Myanmar — Soldiers said they were hunting pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar's largest city Wednesday and the top U.S. diplomat in the country said military police had pulled people out of their homes during the night.

Military vehicles patrolled the streets before dawn with loudspeakers blaring that: "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!"

Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar, said in a telephone interview that people in Yangon were terrified.

"From what we understand, military police ... are traveling around the city in the middle of the night, going into homes and picking up people," she said.

Protests began in Myanmar in August following a fuel price increase by the government, then grew dramatically last month when monks took the lead. The military crushed the protests a week ago with gunfire, tear gas and beatings. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained.

Residents living near the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered shrine and a flashpoint of unrest, said police swept through several dozen homes in the middle of the night Wednesday, dragging away several men for questioning.

Villarosa said her embassy staff had gone to some monasteries in recent days and found them empty. Others were barricaded by the military and declared off-limits to outsiders.

"There is a significantly reduced number of monks on the streets. Where are the monks? What has happened to them?" she said.

Scores of monks were seen at Yangon's main train station Wednesday, trying to get out of the city. Witnesses said some were ordered by their superior monks to go back home to avoid trouble. Others were ordered by the government to vacate monasteries and head home to reduce the possibility of future unrest.

The Democratic Voice of Burma, a dissident radio station based in Norway, said authorities have released 90 of 400 monks detained in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, during a midnight raid on monasteries on Sept. 25.

Authorities also released a reporter for the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun after six days in detention. Min Zaw was taken from his home Friday by plainclothes security personnel who said he would be held temporarily for questioning.

Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog, has said that several other correspondents of foreign news media, including those of Reuters and Agence France-Presse, were physically attacked or prevented from working in the past month.

The Thailand-based news Web site The Irrawaddy reported three Burmese journalists have been missing for several days. A Japanese video journalist, Kenji Nagai, was killed in Yangon at the height of the demonstrations on Sept. 27. His body was flown out of the country Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the junta pursued other means of intimidation. An employee from the Ministry of Transport, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was told to sign a statement saying he and his family would not take part in any political activity and would not listen to foreign radio reports. Many in Myanmar use shortwave radios to pick up foreign English-language stations — a main source for news about their tightly controlled country.

A semblance of normality returned to Yangon after daybreak Wednesday, with some shops opening and light traffic on the roads.

However, "people are terrified, and the underlying forces of discontent have not been addressed," Villarosa said. "People have been unhappy for a long time. ... Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger and fear."

Some people remained hopeful that democracy would come.

"I don't believe the protests have been totally crushed," said Kin, a 29-year-old language teacher in Yangon, whose father and brother had joined the last major pro-democracy movement against the government in 1988, which led to the deaths of at least 3,000 people.

"There is hope, but we fear to hope," she said. "We still dream of rearing our children in a country where everybody would have equal chances at opportunities."

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, and the current junta came to power after snuffing out the 1988 pro-democracy movement. The generals called elections in 1990 but refused to give up power when Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's party won.

The U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, spent four days in the country conveying the international community's outrage at the junta's actions and to try to persuade the military leaders to take the people's aspirations seriously.

He met junta leader Senior Gen. Than Shwe and his deputies and talked to Suu Kyi twice before leaving Tuesday.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said Gambari's message to the junta was "to cease the repression of peaceful protest, release detainees, and move more credibly and inclusively in the direction of democratic reform, human rights and national reconciliation."

The junta has not commented on Gambari's visit and the United Nations has only released photos of Gambari and a somber, haggard-looking Suu Kyi — who has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest — shaking hands during their meeting in a state guest house in Yangon.

Gambari avoided the media in Singapore when he arrived there Tuesday night en route to New York. He was not expected to issue any statements before briefing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday.

Meanwhile, European Union nations agreed Wednesday to toughen sanctions against the military regime. Diplomats said extra sanctions would include an expanded visa ban for members of the military junta, wider restrictions on investment in the country, and a blockade on trade in metals, timber and gemstones.

But the new measures do not include a specific ban on European oil and gas companies from doing business in Myanmar, diplomats said.