Narinjara news

Those forgotten Rakhine Activists in Indian island of Andaman: “Release us or allow us to go elsewhere”

New Delhi, 26 May 03:  May 9th this year was the date to produce before the magistrate thirty-four Rakhine detainees from Burma in the Indian town of Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.  The detainees were held more than five years ago on 11th February 1998 by a combined forces operation dubbed as “Operation Leech” conducted by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. 

As in previous occasions though the detainees were brought into the Port Blair court, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) either could not produce any evidence or bring any charge sheet against them or intentionally resorted to not to produce any charge sheet against them.  The background on which the Burmese nationals were kept under detention itself was a shady ‘operation’  an operation conducted what the Indians said a ‘to nab a gang of gunrunners to India’s troubled north-east insurgency’ that later boomeranged, since the ‘gunrunners’ themselves had maintained a close and steady relation with at least some high-ranking military officials of the Indian Army.

As demanded by the detainees they were engaged in a mission to set up a ‘base’ in Landfall Island of the Andamans, close to Burma, where they would set up an anti-Burmese junta training facility and operational command.  An Indian Colonel Grewal was the person the detainees could name who lured the ‘freedom fighters of Rakhine (Arakan)’ to the Andamans in promise for setting up of the base.  Major Saw Tun and Ran Naing of the Arakan Army (AA), a major Arakanese rebel group, were brought in a flight of the Indian Air Force from New Delhi to the Andamans where they would receive Khaing Raza, the leader of Arakan Army, and 73 other forces.  While at the Andamans, at least six of the top leaders including Major Saw Tun and Ran Naing were believed to be shot and killed by the Indian troops.  The move many believed was committed to finalize the cover-up.  Later the entire outfit was announced as ‘major gunrunners’ for the Indian northeastd and since then 36 of the outfit have been kept under detention without any trial.  The rest were returned to Thailand as they were Thai fishermen whose boats the rebels ‘hijacked’ for transportation of the guns, according to an Indian weekly Sunday.  Last year two of the 36 went missing while they were out to do some shopping.  ‘This only indicates that the Indian defence department has more ruthless plans to eliminate the detained Rakhine freedom fighters to cover up all their trickeries,’ a Rakhine lawyer said to our correspondent.

‘Besides giving the 34 a chance of fair trial the Indian government, considered as the greatest democracy on earth, did not only deny the universal right of fair trial to them but also conducted a co-ordinated effort to prove them as gunrunners and not freedom fighters’, he said.  The way in which the guns (worth about US dollar one million) were brought in also indicated that they were meant for ‘insurgency’ and not for ‘gunrunning’ since they were not in packages, marked a senior Indian journalist. 

At present the detainees are in fear of their life and security, living in the Andamans, resulting from closer ties between Burma and India, and requested all benevolent human rights organizations to request and exert pressure on the Government of India either to release them or allow them to go to a safe place. 

Many of the detained Rakhine freedom fighters were college and university students when they left their country in the aftermath of the 1988 popular democracy uprising in Burma and joined the rebel group.

The next hearing for the case at Port Blair has been fixed on 27 June 03.  #