Jailed Karen Leader Facing Trial Again

By ZARNI MANN | Friday, January 27, 2012 | The Irrawaddy

Despite hints that he would be released as a goodwill gesture, detained Karen National Union (KNU) leader Mahn Nyein Maung is facing trial and a possible sentence of life imprisonment or execution, according to his lawyer.

“The judge informed me yesterday to prepare for the trial which will begin again this coming Thursday. They are charging him with two acts—participating in a battle against the country and ruling government, which can carry a sentence of life imprisonment or death, and having connections to an illegal organization, which can carry a sentence of two to three years,” said his lawyer Kyee Myint.

Mahn Nyein Maung, who is currently in Insein Prison, was sentenced to one year imprisonment for breaking immigration laws and possessing a fake passport, later reduced to six months and the prison term served.

“At that time the authorities don’t know who he was, but later, according to reports from various media groups, they found out he was Mahn Nyein Maung and asked him to help with peace talks with the KNU,” added Kyee Myint.

Speaking through his lawyer, Mahn Nyein Maung warned that the trial against him would impact the ongoing peace process with ethnic armed groups.

“He told me that he is worried that people would distrust the government more and this would create difficulties for peace and national reconciliation, since the ethnic groups have long had doubts about every regime of the Burmese government,” said Kyee Myint.

“He said he got a promise from the authorities who interrogated him that they will forget about the trial if he helps them in the peace talks, as he is a leader of the KNU, and gives suggestions. So he suggested to approach the KNU.”

Railways Minister Aung Min gave hints that Mhan Nyein Maung would be released as a gesture of peace two days after meeting with KNU leaders for ceasefire discussions in the second week of January. Both sides signed preliminary agreements and arranged for further talks at the meeting.

David Tharkapaw, vice-president of the KNU, said that the group is confused by the actions of the government.

“This is affecting both sides badly at the same time as we are talking and working strongly—even signing pre-agreements for peace. Since they have not released Mahn Nyein Maung and the other 69 of our detained members, we have a lot to think about and discuss,” he said.

Mahn Nyein Maung, a prominent KNU leader and central committee member of the United Nationalities Federal Council ethnic armed alliance, was arrested in July 2011 by Chinese immigration officials in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province.

He was sent back to Bangkok where he was denied entry by Thai officials. He was then deported to Burma and taken into custody.

Mahn Nyein Maung is a former underground activist inside Burma. In 1960, he was arrested and later sent to the Coco Islands, an infamous detention center for political prisoners located around 300 km off the Burmese mainland in the Indian Ocean.

Mahn Nyein Maung and two other political prisoners, Mahn Aung Kyi and Aung Ngwe, managed to escape from the island in 1970 by floating across the water clutching driftwood. However, they were rearrested when they reached the Burmese mainland. It is the only known escape from the prison, located on what is commonly referred to as “Burma's Devil's Island.”

Due to his extraordinary escape, Mahn Nyein Maung is frequently likened to the famous French prisoner Henri Charrire, nicknamed Papillon, who escaped a penal colony in French Guyana. Like Charrire, Mahn Nyein Maung published a book about his experiences inside the brutal prison at Coco Island and his subsequent escape.

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