Release of 34 ethnic Karens and Arakans Welcomed
20 May 2011: Yesterday’s release of thirty-one of the 34 ‘freedom fighters’ arrested in India’s Andaman Islands and detained for more than 13 years has been welcomed across both Burmese and ethnic communities worldwide.
The 34 rebel fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU) and the National United Party of Arakan (NUPA) were freed from prison in Kolkata days after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recognised them as refugees last month.
Mary Hla, Campaigns Officer at Burma Campaign UK, said: “I am delighted that the 34 have been released at last. The 34 should never have been in jail in the first place. It is vital now that they are guaranteed safety and support, with no threat of their being deported back to Burma.”
“We hope that countries in Europe will offer them sanctuary. We are approaching European countries about this,” added Mary, an ethnic Karen from Burma.
About 38 organisations wordwide including Burma Campaign UK joined in the global day of action last February, demanding the release of the thirty-four resistance fighters who were arrested on 11 February 1998 after being tricked with a promise of safety and military support by an Indian ‘undercover’ official, Lieutenant Colonel Grewal.
The released members were said to have expressed their heartfelt gratitude and thanks to both those individuals and organisations involved in working for their freedom, and commitment to continuing the struggle for democracy in Burma.
Initially accused of gun-running, the thirty-four ethnic Arakans and Karens never intentionally broke any Indian law and thought they were in India with the permission of the Indian government, according to Burma Campaign UK.
It is claimed that three detained members are to be returned to the Andaman Islands for clearing pending court cases, according to sources.
Dr. Tint Swe, a trial witness, was quoted as saying that the release marked a clear dividing line between a real democracy and the situation in Burma.
Van Biak Thang