Jailed rebels in India likely to be released

Sep 23, 2008 (DVB), A lawyer for 34 Burmese rebels who have been detained in India since 1998 on charges of gunrunning said he expects them to be freed early next year when their trial ends.

The rebels, all members of the National Unity Party of Arakan and the Karen National Union, 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 not yet been convicted of any crime.

Lawyer Akshay Sharma who has been working as part of the defence team, told DVB in an interview that the group was likely to be freed next year.

"The trial of the Arakan rebels will be over around February or March next year. I am confident they will be freed then," he said.

"The main CBI officials who investigated the case are now being questioned , this is the last part of the case."

If they are released, normal court procedures would require them to be sent back to Burma.

But Sharma said the group should not be returned to Burma because of their activities against the Burmese government.

"We still have the duty to make sure that these Arakan rebels do not return to Burma after their release from Kolkata prison," Sharma said.

"The Burmese government will put them in prison if they were returned, so this is not in their best interests," he said.

"We are therefore approaching UNHCR and we will work to ensure they can either stay in India or have the chance to settle in another country."

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

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