Five large trucks have transported hundreds of inmates out of Insein prison in Rangoon, with one eye-witness saying they may be headed for conflict zones in the country’s border regions.
The 10-wheeled trucks were seen leaving the notorious Insein prison on Tuesday morning loaded with prisoners.
“The trucks were full of inmates and were accompanied by four riot police trucks…[which] were full of [policemen],” said one man.
He added that he was “pretty sure” the inmates were being taken to Karen state in the east of Burma, where Burmese troops have been using prisoners as porters in their fight against opposition Karen armies. Others may have gone to Kachin state in the north. This has not been independently verified.
“There were also inmates from other prisons elsewhere. Last week a truck from Bassein [Irrawaddy division] arrived and another one from unknown location.” He added that numbers of prisoners had been taken out of Insein last month but were yet to return.
DVB learnt last month that some 800 prisoners had been taken from their cells in central and eastern Burma and used as porters to carry equipment for frontline troops in Karen state.
Three porters who managed to escape to Thailand told DVB that they were chained and made to carry supplies through the mountainous terrain in eastern Burma.
The Burmese army is known to have used civilians as minesweepers, forcing them to walk in front of patrols to ensure troops don’t take the full blast of a landmine.
“They ordered us porters to take the middle of the road while soldiers walk along the side of the road,” Pho Aye, who managed to escape after being sent to Karen state from Bassein prison, told DVB in late January. “A porter named Pho Thar Aung died when he stepped on a landmine and two soldiers were slightly injured from shrapnel.”
The latest conflict began in Karen state on 8 November last year after the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), led by renegade commander Na Kham Mwe, took key government positions in Myawaddy, across the border from Mae Sot. Clashes have since continued to occur on a regular basis.