It is said there are three happy days in Burmese society. They are: when a monk disrobes and becomes a layman again, the wedding day and the day prisoners are released. Now, Arakanese people are rejoicing because freedom fighters from Arakan State have returned home after serving many years in Indian prisons.
Thirty-one members of the Burmese resistance, including 20 Arakanese from the National United Party for Arakan (NUPA), as well as 11 Karen revolutionaries, were released from Calcutta Prison on May 19, 2011, after spending 13 years in two Indian prisons, as political prisoners. Three Arakanese activists remain in prison in India.
They were among 36 Burmese arrested by Indian authorities on Landfall Island, in the Adaman Sea in 1998.
Arakanese people live in western Burma and Karen people live in the east. However, even though they live on opposite sides of the country, speak different languages and practice different beliefs, they lived together in the same prison for 8 years before being sent to trial.
"I want to continue working together with other Arakanese politicians and political activists to see one united Arakanese political party and one Arakanese Army. I want unity among Arakanese,” said Ko Soe Naing, who was one of the men released.
“I would like to say 'thanks' to all the people who greeted us," he said.
A military dictatorship has ruled Burma for decades, which has been widely criticized for frequent human rights violations and violently resisting democratic change. That's why Arakanese from the west and Karen from the east of Burma struggled in an armed revolution against the Burmese military regime.
The Arakanese and Karen freedom fighters were arrested in 11 February 1998 during Operation Leech, launched by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. The operation was led by Lt. Col. Gray Wal, who was an Indian intelligent officer.
U ShweThar was Chairman of the NUPA and Gen. Khaing Yarzar was Commander of the Arakanese Army, the armed wing of the NUPA. Under his leadership the army was strong.
In the beginning, the Arakanese Army formed on the Thai-Burma because it was not possible logistically on the western border with India and Bangladesh and it was possible to secure arms, equipment and training there, through its ally, the KNU.
By order of the NUPA, U Saw Tun, who was a Central Committee member, based in Bangladesh, began discussions with Lt. Col. Gray Wal, an Indian intelligence officer, who persuaded them to open a military camp on Landfall Island, in the Andaman Sea.
However, when the Arakanese and Karen freedom fighters arrived on Landfall Island, they were arrested by Lt. Col. Gray Wal, and Indian Intelligence officers. Several of the leaders of the group were shot by their captors; including Gen. Khaing Yarzar.
Many Arakanese and Karen accuse Lt. Col. Gray Wal of betraying the men and killing the Burmese leaders at a planned meeting.
"We lost our good leader Gen. Khaing Yarzar. It's a huge loss for us," Ko Danya Lin, from the Arakanese Army, said after his relase.
Originally, there were 36 men in the party. However, two escaped from arrest. Nobody knows if these two successfully escaped, died in the sea or were arrested again and killed by Indian security guards. They are still missing.
After they were arrested, the remaining men were detained for 8 years in a jail in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands, without being charged.
Dr. Tint Swe, from the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), sought the release the revolutionaries. He sent letters to Indian Prime Minister Mann Mohand Sing and the United Nations, urging that the men be recognized as refugees.
"It's good news,” he said about the release of the men.
“This is a victory for these revolutionaries, thanks to the Indian Government and the independent judicial system of India. Burma is not a democratic country. If they were arrested in Burma, they could not get a fair trial in a Burmese court.”
"We are also upset for the three men still in prison," he added.
Indian authorities moved these fighters to Calcutta Prison in 2006, after pressure by human rights lawyers and local politicians. India’s Central Bureau of Intelligence sent them to trial for possession of illegal weapons and explosive devices on Indian soil. The CBI accused them of planning to export weapons to Indian rebel groups on the eastern border.
At trial, all were sentenced to 3 years in prison and fined 6,000 Rupee ($133 USD), under Indian law. The Indian court dismissed their three year prison term in consideration of the time already served by the men.
The Arakanese League for Democracy (Japan) has requested the Indian government release the remaining three freedom fighters, citing human rights reasons.
The Arakanese Refugees Relief Committee, in Malaysia, also released a statement committing to work for the release of the 3 activists remaining in prison. The committee requested the Indian government to release the 3 freedom fighters, as soon as possible.
Ko Soe Lin Tun, from Bangladesh, said in a speech when the men returned to Arakan State they were brave and worked for the mother land.
“They sacrificed their life for freedom. So we greet them as heroes. We believe the Arakanese revolution will rise up again if heroes take the true path,” he said.
Thar Htoo Khaing, who lives in New York said, “We were very happy to hear of the release of the Arakanese freedom fighters. We greet them as well. I expect they would continue to work for the Arakanese revolution.”
He said, “They are like birds because a bird is put in a bird cage and suffers a lot in the cage- but when the bird is released from the cage, the bird will fly as high as the bird can. Even though they have suffered a lot in prison for 13 years, they still have enough strength to be brave for the future of Arakan State.”
The following is a list of the names of the freedom fighters released from Indian prison:
Ko Soe Naing (Rembre)
Ko Tun Yee (Rembre)
Ko Myo Myat (Rembre)
Ko Ye Htet (Rembre)
Ko Thein Kyaw Aung (Myauk-oo)
Ko Khaing Thar Mya (Myauk-oo)
Ko Aung Zan Min (Myauk-oo)
Ko Soe Soe (Rembre)
Ko Maung Nyo Sein (Myauk-oo)
Ko Danya Lin (Pauk Taw)
Ko Khaing Soe Lin (Pauk Taw)
Ko Chan Du (KyaukPhru)
Ko Khin Maung Maung Aye (KyaukPhru)
Ko Khin Maung Kyi (KyaukPhru)
Ko Myo Min Tun (KyaukPhru)
Ko Aung Naing Win (Sittawe)
Ko Khaing Hla Shwe (Sittawe)
Ko Khaing San Thein (Kyauk Taw)
Ko Khaing Hla (Kyauk Taw)
Ko Zaw Lin (Min Byar)
KoThein Aung Kyaw (MaungDaw)
Ko Min TharTun (RathayTaung)
Ko Pho Cho
Ko Hkay Ti
Ko Char Toe Toe
Ko Char Moo Chay
Ko Saw Bo
Ko San Lwin
KoYua Hay Tha
Ko Dah Aye
Ko Shwe Lar.
Ko Hay Li, Ko Maung Naing and Ko Lu Lu still remain in prison.
Hopefully, there will be rejoicing soon on their release day.
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