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Kachin refugees protest arbitrary arrests

Peaceful procession calls for release of refugee detained since last month

John Zaw, Mandalay

July 7, 2012

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More than 800 internally displaced Kachin and local residents in Myitkyina held a peaceful procession yesterday for the release of a man arrested in a refugee camp and accused by authorities of involvement in recent bomb attacks in the state. Aung Myat, head of the Ja Mai Kaung refugee camp, said the protests aimed at protecting refugees in general and seeking justice for Lahtaw Brang Shawng, 28, arrested on June 17 from the camp and has been detained since that time. “We called for the release [of Lahtaw Brang Shawng] and justice for refugees in a peaceful way, and there were no difficulties with local police or other authorities. Some local authorities even joined us in the peaceful demonstration,” Aung Myat told yesterday. The hundreds of protesters – other media organizations put the number at more than 1,000 – gathered in the streets of the state capital Myitkyina and marched and sang songs until about midday, Aung Myat said. He added that some streets had been blocked and the procession was unable to its planned destination, the parliamentary house. Lahtaw Brang Shawng appeared in court on June 28 on charges of participating in bomb attacks and being a member of the Kachin Independence Army. A week earlier, the government daily newspaper the New Light of Myanmar said in a report that Lahtaw Brang Shawng was a KIA soldier masquerading as a refugee and that they obtained this information after earlier arresting four others from the camp and interrogating them. The judge dismissed the case when he saw signs of physical abuse and discovered a recording device attached to his chest, Lahtaw Brang Shawng’s lawyer Ma Hka was quoted as saying in a report by the Kachin News Group. “My husband is innocent. But the military intelligence arrested him after entering the refugee camp,” Zay Njwei, wife of Lahtaw Brang Shawng, told yesterday. She said she was allowed a five-minute visit with her husband in Myitkyina prison yesterday – the first she’s seen of him since his arrest last month. “He has been beaten and tortured in prison. His face is wounded and he’s not like the person he was before,” she said. Zay Njwei said she and her husband have three children and had taken shelter in the camp for about a year. They were farmers before they fled their land because of fighting between the government and opposition KIA forces that broke out last June, ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. Aung Myat said Lawtah Brang Shwang’s court case has been postponed until July 11.
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