Monday, April 27, 2009

Suspect over fire in battalion tortured

Rangoon (Mizzima) – A person has been arrested and is allegedly being tortured in the notorious Insein prison, on suspicion of involvement in a fire in the Garrison Engineering (GE) Battalion in Rangoon Division’s Hleku Township, according to sources.

Military junta authorities arrested a suspect, Zaw Latt (22), on March 28, in connection with a fire, which broke out in the office of GE Battalion (963) in Hleku Township’s Min Kone village on the same day.

“He [Zaw Latt] showed us how he was tortured. We saw his private parts burnt and marks on his body from severe beatings,” the source, who met Zaw Latt on April 10, during the court date, said.

The GE (963) is based near the Min Kone village and is engaged in constructing the Rangoon-Pegu road and other constructions for the Brigade (605) and (337). Allegedly villagers from Min Kone and other nearby villages were asked to volunteer for constructing roads and were forced to break stones.

Zaw Latt, who was one of the workers on the construction site, was arrested as a primary suspect involved in the fire, which broke out on March 28 morning, at about 4 a.m (local time), at the GE office along with 21 other workers.

Head of the workers, Kyi Hla said, the police from Phaunggyi police station had come on the evening of March 28, and arrested 22 people in connection with the fire.

“I told them [the police] not to arrest my workers, but to take me away instead as I am the head. But, they refused and took them away,” Kyi Hla said.

However, of the people arrested, the others were later released and only Zaw Latt was detained.

According to eyewitnesses, authorities have severely tortured Zaw Latt leaving scars on his body. They have threatened that he would be tortured further, unless villagers of Min Kone sign a confession stating they had started the fire.

Kyi Hla said, the GE Battalion had sent Hleku Township Court’s Justice Thein Htay, Legal Officer Hla Myint along with the police to the village, to ask for a confession that the villagers had recklessly caused the fire, while they were drunk.

“In charge of the GE Battalion Warrant Officer Aung Naing came to us and told us that they would try and help the boy [Zaw Latt] from being severely punished, if the villagers confessed that they had recklessly started the fire, while they were drunk,” Kyi Hla said.

Aung Naing also said that he would personally testify in court that Zaw Latt was innocent, but when Kyi Hla asked the legal officers, they said the officer’s statement could not be put as the prosecutor’s official testimony.

Human Rights activist, Myint Maung from the Guiding Star Rights defender group in Pegu town, who has been following the case closely, said, Zaw Latt would complete a month of illegal detention on April 27.

“No charge-sheet has been filed against the boy. Authorities have taken a remand of the first 14 days and later took another remand, but so far there is no charge-sheet against him. He was simply arrested, detained and tortured without any case against him,” Myint Maung added.

He said, the boy had been illegally detained and would probably be charged for destroying public properties.

Even as the culprits behind the fire still remain unknown, Myint Maung said the man in-charge of the construction project, Aung Cho Oo had been stealing petrol from the battalion.

“Aung Cho Oo had been stealing petrol from the battalion and would resell it. But, on that fateful night, he was going to steal from the Battalion’s office,” Myint Maung said.

The construction project was overseen by GE Battalion’s Sergeant Soe Lwin, Sergeant Aung Khin Zaw and villager leader Aung Cho Oo, he added.

Since the battalion was preparing to use mines to break rocks, the battalion on March 27, had kept all stocks of mine, ammunition and other explosives in the office, when the fire broke out.

Myint Maung said the fire spread near the ammunition and other explosives. The villagers and other workers were unable to get close enough to the office to put out the fire.

However, when the fire broke out, while everybody was taken by surprise, Aung Cho Oo was already able to take away motorbikes, cars and even petrol tanks, leaving villagers and workers to think that he had previous knowledge of the fire, Kyi Hla, the workers head said.

“When the fire broke out, Sergeant Aung Khin Saw was taken by surprise and he ran out of his bed without clothes on. But, Aung Cho Oo had been able to remove bikes, cars and even petrol tanks from the office,” he said.

But Kyi Hla also said, the fire might have been a set-up by the authorities in order to avoid paying the workers their wages.

“We have been working since last November. And as per our agreement, we are to get about Kyat 3 to 4 million [approximately USD 2,500-3,333] but when this problem started, they [authorities] are trying to find an excuse not to pay us,” Kyi Hla said.

“They want to portray that [Zaw Latt] or the villagers have started the fire, because authorities have not paid their fees,” he added.

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