Saturday, September 24, 2011

KIO rebels free prisoners from Burmese labour camp

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – More than 50 prisoners from a Burmese prison labour camp in northern Shan State were set free by soldiers from the Kachin Impendence Organization on Wednesday in a dramatic demonstration of the organization’s strength.
KIO soldiers listen to a training class in this file photo. Photo: Mizzima
KIO soldiers listen to a training class in this file photo. Photo: Mizzima
This was the first time the KIO had freed prisoners from a prison camp since a 16-year cease-fire between Burma’s second largest armed group and the central government fell apart earlier this year.

While the KIO took credit for Burma’s largest prison break in nearly two decades, the freeing of prisoners from the Shwe Pyi Thit, labour camp was not the KIO’s original intention. 

According to a KIO spokesman, soldiers from the 4th brigade of the 9th Battalion were passing near the camp when prison guards shot at them, forcing the Kachin rebels to respond. The spokesman said that the exchange of fire was brief.  Apparently, the guards fled when they realized they were outnumbered, leaving behind dozens of emaciated prisoners.

A spokesman at the KIO’s headquarters in Laiza told Mizzima that 16 of the prisoners freed were army conscripts who were arrested after deserting.  Another two prisoners were KIO members jailed for their political affiliation. The remaining prisoners, estimated at 37, mostly consisted of individuals convicted for minor crimes such as theft and illegal money trading.

The KIO would provide more details of the health condition of the prisoners once information has been relayed from the frontline, said the spokesman. 

Located in northern Shan State south of the border city of Muse, the Shwe Pyi Thit labour camp is one of numerous labour camps located in remote corners of Burma.  While this is first time this year the KIO is known to have freed prisoners from a labour camp, it is not a first for the KIO.  Prior to signing a cease-fire with the Burmese regime in 1994, the organization participated in several major prison breaks during its three-decade uprising against the Burmese regime. 

Burma’s most famous prison break occurred shortly after Independence when in early 1949 Karen rebels led by Saw Ba U Gyi freed hundreds of prisoners from the country’s largest jail located in Insein, during a Karen National Union’s 112-day siege of the Rangoon suburb.
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