US detainee 'refusing food from family'

Feb 4, 2010 (DVB), The Burmese-born US citizen detained in a Rangoon jail has declined food sent by his family, according to prison officials who spoke to a relative.

Nyi Nyi Aung, also known as Kyaw Zaw Lwin, has been held in Insein prison since arriving in Burma in September last year. In December he staged a hunger strike in protest at prison conditions, and was subsequently moved to the prison's 'dog cells'.

His aunt, Khin Khin Swe, the family has been sending him food through prison officials in recent weeks following a ban on him receiving visits, which has been in place since 6 January.

"[The official] told me to come and pick up the parcel we left for Nyi Nyi Aung that morning. He said [Nyi Nyi Aung] refused to accept it," said Khin Khin Swe.

"I was already worried as [the family] hasn't been allowed to see him. This raised suspicions in my head that he was sick or on a hunger strike like he did previously.

She added however that she thought it was neither of these, and instead a protest against the ban on visitors.

"We heard that he was allowed to have one hour walk [outside of his cell] everyday so can assume he has been healthy," she continued.

Last month the court verdict on his trial was postponed until 10 February. He has been charged with fraud and forgery, although observers believe his arrest stems from activist work carried out since he fled Burma to the US in 1993.

Shortly after Nyi Nyi Aung's arrest, his wife wrote an article in Thailand's Bangkok Post claiming that he had visited Burma to see his mother, who has cancer.

In December more than 50 US lawmakers wrote to junta chief Than Shwe, urging him to release the Burma-born detainee from prison amid health worries.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has also called for his release and said the charges, which Kyaw Zaw Lwin denies, were "trumped-up" by the regime.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

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