India is refusing to release 34 detained Burmese ethnic resistance fighters because the state is trying to hide intelligence misdemeanours, Burmese activists have alleged.
The men from the Karen and Arakan states in Burma last week marked their thirteenth year behind bars in India. Although they accepted a plea bargain whereby they were charged with immigration offences, the 34 have had the initial charges of gun running and “waging war against the Indian state” thrown out by courts.
“They [Indian government] are trying to hide something behind this case,” Aung Marm Oo, general secretary of the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AAYSC), told DVB.
“It is fully related to government policy: if they release them the central government thinks that they will appear guilty of killing the leaders,” adds Aung Marm Oo.
The Burmese were lured to the Indian Andaman Islands on 11 February 1998 by an Indian intelligence officer named Colonel Grewhal, whom later was suspected by observers to have been a double agent, working for both the Indian and the Burmese governments. Upon arrest on the islands, six of the group’s leaders were taken away blindfolded and executed.
Advocate and human rights lawyer Nandita Haksar had DVB last year that that “the Indian intelligence community are on trial here”.
Indeed the allegations and the case brought to court was “full of discrepancies”, according to trial lawyer, Akshay Sharma. Moreover, an Indian intelligence officer told the Kolkata local newspaper, the Telegraph, that the government was “deliberately adopting dilatory tactics”.
Uncertainty still clouds the fate of the 34, despite the initial charges being dropped. “We strongly urge the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] to grant them recognition as political refugees, so that they are eligible for resettlement in a third country, and in the interim we are appealing to the Indian government to release them from prison and guarantee that they will not be forcibly repatriated to Burma”, said Aung Marm Oo in a statement on 11 February.
This came as protests took place in cities from Britain to Bangladesh, with calls for their release and some semblance of justice for the 34 from the Karen National Union (KNU) and the now defunct National United Party of Arakan (NUPA). The latter had spent significant amounts of money trying to secure a base in the Andaman Islands through Grewhal, who took repeated trips to Bangkok where he pressured the Arakanese to afford him lavish accommodation and gifts.