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Rakhing Leaders Killed In India

In a prison in Port Blair, lies the Government's can of worms

NEW DELHI, May 8: Next Tuesday, 73 Burmese and Thai nationals arrested
charges of gun-running may walk out of Port Blair's Protharapur prison
kick off what could be a messy controversy and a major diplomatic
embarrassment for the Government.
Most of these prisoners are rebels fighting the Burmese junta. They and
their weapons had been apparently promised safe passage by the Indian
government. And human rights groups representing the prisoners allege
they were arrested and six of them shot in cold blood all senior
leaders --
in the remote Landfall Islands on the northern tip of Andaman and
In fact, one of those killed was the key person negotiating with a
Military Intelligence officer.

It was treachery, say representatives of these prisoners, accusing New
of first striking a deal with them and then -- for reasons still not
clear -- double-crossing them by cosying up to the Myanmar Government.

All this would have remained unknown for quite a while had it not been
themud flying around the Fernandes-Bhagwat war, some of it sticking to
is called Operation Leech. But more of that later.

First, the story of Leech, based on official records and an eyewitness
statement obtained by The Indian Express. According to the FIR lodged
Port Blair by R. S. Dhankar, Deputy Naval Provost Marshall, the story
pretty straightforward: On February 11, 1998, at Landfall Islands, 73
foreign nationals were captured for alleged gun-running. Six tried to
and fired on Indian troops who retaliated. The six ``were seen
in the sea and are presumed dead.'' On May 11, 1998, with no
charge-sheet in
sight, the 73 men were detained under the National Security Act.

However, records show that in this case, these prisoners aren't just
runners. Out of the 73, almost half are from the Arakan Army, the armed
 of the Myanmarese National United Party of Arakan (NUPA) which has
fighting a long war with the Myanmarese junta. There were also 37 Thai
andMynarmarese fishermen who were ``hijacked'' by the Arakans en route
Landfall Islands.

NUPA claims that senior Arakan officers began talks with New Delhi as
as April 1993. And were soon discussing the possibility of India
providing a
safe passage of arms from Thailand to Myanmar via Bangladesh.

The first tangible ``breakthrough'' came in 1996 when an official of
Joint Intelligence Committee and Lt Col V.J.S. Grewal, a Military
Intelligence official met the Arakan leaders at their Mizoram
at Parva. The Arakans were represented by one Major Saw Tun. Grewal
available for comment.

Soon after the talks, Tun told his bosses that Grewal had ``suggested''
payment of Rs 5 lakh for New Delhi to clear the ``plan.'' The Arakan
therefore, sent $20,000 via a messenger who returned with the
code name, maps and photographs of the site: the Landfall Islands. NUPA
officials claim they have photographs and copies of air tickets to show
Grewal was in constant touch.According to the plan, the landing was
scheduled for May 21, 1997, with Grewal and Tun scheduled to reach the
islands via Chennai to ``receive'' the expedition.But a cyclone blew
plan away. Until January, 1998, more than six months after the initial
scheduled date, when Grewal was given the names and photos of those
men who would be on board and another $10,000.

NUPA says the expedition began on February 8, when the Arakan flotilla
two high-speed gun boats and two trawlers -- set sail from the Deeva
camp in
Thailand. It reached the Landfall islands around noon on February 10,
picking up along the way 35 Burmese and two Thais who were fishing
illegally. The first batch of Arakan personnel, including senior
was received by Grewal and Tun. More than two hours later, the rest of
expedition landed. There was a reception in the evening and by next
the balance had tilted.According to one eyewitness, Dynyalin, who is in
prison right now and whose statement is part of a petitionsent to the
this is what happened:

At first, Khaing Raza, an Arakan leader, reached the island and met
Grewal and another Indian Army officer. They had a ``party'' on the
while the rest of the crew waited for instructions. The next morning,
asked the crew to unload their weapons for ``inspection'' by an Indian
officer. They were then asked to fall in line while Raza, Tun and four
Arakan leaders -- all unarmed -- were led away by Grewal.

``Soon, another Indian Army Colonel and another Army Officer ordered
`hands up'....our hands were tied and we were blindfolded. I told them
wanted to take orders from our leader Raza. We were then ordered to lie
on the sand. Around 10 minutes later, we heard a sound of gun shots
from the
direction in which our leaders had been taken. The number of shots we
may have been around 20 to 30...'' ``We are confused, scared, we do not
the remaining 73 to be killed,'' says a Myanmarese refugee.The
for its part,is not keen to explain. In fact, when a Madurai-based
Henri Tiphagne, allowed by Port Blair's Chief Metropolitan Magistrate
meet the prisoners, was recording his first interview, the Union
obtained a stay from the Madras High Court and Tiphagne was asked to
the prison.

Tomorrow: Operation Leech and Fernandes vs Bhagwat

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express

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