Thursday, November 15, 2007

We cannot forget Myanmar: UN investigator meets Myanmar prisoners

Nov. 15, 2007, 8:31AM
© 2007 The Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar — A U.N. human rights investigator said he was able to meet with several prominent political prisoners Thursday before ending his five-day mission to Myanmar.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was sent by the U.N. to investigate allegations of widespread abuse in connection with the ruling junta's bloody September crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

He went to Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, where he was able to talk with several political detainees, including labor activist Su Su Nway, who was arrested Tuesday, he said at a news conference at Yangon's airport.

Pinheiro also met with 77-year-old journalist Win Tin, held since 1989, and members of the 88 Generation Students group, who have been especially active in nonviolent anti-government protests in recent years. Pinheiro did not reveal details of their conversations.

He said he had requested a meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, but it had not been granted by the government.

He added, however, that he was satisfied with the cooperation he had received from the government, and noted that U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari, who visited a week earlier, had been allowed to meet Suu Kyi.

One of Pinheiro's goals had been to determine the numbers of people detained and killed by the regime in the recent unrest. He privately told diplomats Wednesday that no exact number could yet be determined, according to one envoy who asked not to be identified, citing protocol.

The military government said 10 people were killed when troops opened fire on crowds of peaceful protesters on Sept. 26-27. Diplomats and dissidents, however, say the death toll was much higher.

Buddhist monks inspired and led the movement until it was brutally crushed. The authorities began their crackdown by raiding several monasteries in Yangon in the middle of the night and hauling monks away.

The government has acknowledged detaining nearly 3,000 people but says it has released most of them. Many prominent political activists, however, remain in custody.

Pinheiro had also visited Insein Prison on Monday, but was only given access to officials.

Insein has held numerous political prisoners over the years. Many former inmates describe torture, abysmal conditions and long stretches in solitary confinement.

Pinheiro's trip was otherwise dominated by meetings with junta officials. He had been given access to several detention centers in Yangon in addition to Insein, but was not allowed to meet any prisoners.

Despite worldwide criticism, the junta continued its crackdown on dissidents during Pinheiro's visit.

The latest to be detained were three people handing out anti-regime pamphlets Wednesday at a fruit and vegetable market in Yangon, witnesses said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they feared government reprisals.

The incident followed earlier arrests of two prominent dissidents.

Su Su Nway, a prominent activist who had been on the run for more than two months, was arrested Tuesday morning in Yangon as she tried to place a leaflet near a hotel where Pinheiro was staying, said exiled Myanmar dissidents in Thailand.

U Gambira, a monk who helped spearhead the pro-democracy demonstrations in Yangon, was arrested several days ago, said Stanley Aung of the Thailand-based dissident group National League for Democracy-Liberated Area.

Pinheiro said he did not get to meet with U Gambira.

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