May 5, 2008 (DVB)-Thirty-six inmates of Insein prison were killed on Saturday when soldiers opened fire on prisoners congregating in a prison hall, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Strong winds caused by tropical cyclone Nargis, which hit Burma on Friday, tore off many of the zinc roofs of the prison, forcing around 1000 prisoners into the main prison hall no. 1, AAPP said in a statement.
"No one was allowed to seek safety, and they were locked inside the hall," the statement said.
"The prisoners were wet and cold and some of them started a fire to try and keep warm. Unfortunately, the fire began to give off thick smoke, and prisoners panicked," it said.
"As they were locked inside the hall, they couldn't flee to safety. The situation escalated and chaos ensued."
Soldiers and riot police brought in to control the situation opened fire on the prisoners, killing 36 and injuring 70.
AAPP secretary Ko Tate Naing said they had learned of the incident from family members of Insein prison inmates who had visited them recently.
"Insein prison authorities have the responsibility to give humanitarian assistance to the prisoners who are being detained there," he said.
"But instead of doing that, they beat up and opened fire on the inmates who needed their help after the devastation caused by a natural disaster, and that is a serious violation of human rights."
The group said that no political prisoners were known to have been among those killed.
Reporting by Naw Say Phaw