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.