Activists call for release of jailed rebels in India

Feb 6, 2008 (DVB), Burmese democracy activists living in exile in India staged a demonstration in Kolkata on Monday to call for the release of 34 Burmese rebels who have been detained since 1998.

The National Unity Party of Arakan and Karen National Union rebels were arrested for allegedly smuggling weapons by Indian security forces in the notorious Operation Leech on the Andaman and Nicobar islands in February 1998.

They are currently being held in Kolkata prison, but have still not been convicted of any offence.

One of Monday's protestors, Arakan Human Rights Watch group director Khine Aung Kyaw, said the rebels should be freed if they have not committed any crime, but added that they would not be able to return to Burma.

"We would rather the court gave them sentences if they are guilty of any violations, but the court is not doing that," he said.

"These people can't actually go back to Burma; if they did, they would be murdered by the military junta."

Because of the threats they would face in Burma, Khine Aung Kyaw said the Indian government should give them refugee status if they are released.

"They are just young people; they are not terrorists, but political activists and armed revolutionaries," Khine Aung Kyaw said.

"They do have weapons, but these are not intended for any terrorist activities inside [India]; they would only be used to revolt against the military junta in Burma."

The next court appointment for the group is on 8 February.

Reporting by Thet Naing

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