Jailed Aid Staff Pardoned

Burma frees three local aid workers ordered jailed over ethnic unrest between Rohinygas and Rakhines.

rakhine-sittwe-debris-305 Red Cross rescue workers clear debris from destroyed houses following days of ethnic violence in Sittwe, the Rakhine state capital, June 16, 2012.

Burma’s President Thein Sein on Tuesday pardoned three local U.N.-linked staff imprisoned for their alleged involvement in recent ethnic violence in western Burma, a rare amnesty that was immediately welcomed by the world body.

The three—two brothers who were staff of U.N. programs and one woman employed by a U.N. partner organization working in Rakhine state—were pardoned out of the “loving kindness” of the government, Thein Sein said on his official website.

Maung Khin Shwe of the World Food Programme, his brother Maung Khin Maung of refugee relief agency UNHCR, and Cho Lay Mar of a UNHCR-affiliated group had been sentenced to between two and six years in jail for involvement in the June violence by a court in Maungdaw on Friday.

The clashes between Muslim Rohingyas and Buddhist Rakhines left more than 80 people dead, thousands of homes burned to the ground, and tens of thousands of people displaced.

The U.N. confirmed Tuesday that two of their staff had been released, saying a third remained in detention, but gave no further details.

“We welcome the release and we hope that the one person remaining in detention will be released," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.

Three staffers

Maung Khin Shwe was sentenced to two years for his involvement in unrest in Maungdaw and for defaming the state while Maung Khin Maung was sentenced to three years for similar reasons as well as for illegal possession of foreign currency, according to Thein Sein’s website.

Cho Lay Mar, an employee of the UNHCR-affiliated Community Social Services Education Project, was ordered jailed for six years for instigating unrest, involvement in arson attacks, and illegal possession of foreign currency, it said.

They were pardoned “in order for them to understand the loving kindness of the state and to be able to do their duty together with the people for their benefit and for that of the region and the country,” it said.

Before the pardon, Maung Khin Win, the younger brother of Maung Khin Shwe and Maung Khin Maung, said the men had been denied attorneys and their family members had not been allowed to attend the trial.

He claimed that his brothers were innocent of the charges and that when the violence erupted on June 8, they had been locked in the UNHCR office out of concern for their safety.  They were detained four days later.

The three pardoned aid workers are among at least 12 local staff that humanitarian groups say were detained by the government in June for suspected involvement in the unrest.  Aside from the two the U.N. said were freed, six others have been released so far.

One of the released, Kyaw Hla Aung, a Doctors Without Borders employee freed last week along with his colleague Win Naing, said that before his detention he had been accused of links to an Islamic fundamentalist terrorist group and that his home had been raided.

International rights groups called on Burma in the wake of the unrest to ensure humanitarian workers unfettered access to the region and to address “systematic discrimination” of the Muslim Rohingya underlying the tensions.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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