News / Asia

Burma Activist Disappears Says Rights Group

Daniel Schearf
A former monk and leader of Burma's 2007 democracy uprising has disappeared after being re-arrested by police.  Rights groups suspect U Gambira, who led 2007 anti-government protests, was detained to prevent him from supporting popular demonstrations against a China-backed copper mine.

The family of Nyi Nyi Lwin, known as U Gambira, say police arrested him Saturday night at his brother-in-law's house.
 
He was taken to a police station and indicted on charges from January when he broke into monasteries sealed by the previous military government.
 
Police told his family he would be sent to Burma's notorious Insein Prison, but prison officials deny he is there.
 
Bo Kyi is joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Burma.
 
"He was sent to Insein prison.  But, when his brother visited Insein prison yesterday.  Insein prison officers said he was not in Insein prison.  Until now, we do not know where he was taken to, what happened to him," said Bo Kyi. " I have regular communication with his family members.  His family members also do not know where he was taken to now.  They are really worried for him."
 
U Gambira was a main organizer of the 2007 monk-led protests against the military government known as the Saffron Revolution because of the color of their robes.
 
After the military brutally crushed the democracy uprising, he was arrested and sentenced to six decades in prison.
 
But with the change to civilian rule, reformist President Thein Sein released hundreds of political prisoners including U Gambira in January.  
 
Shortly after, he led a group of monks to break locks put on activist monasteries shut down after the 2007 uprising.  
 
He was briefly detained at the time but was not brought up on charges and gave up his robes to become a layman.
 
Rights groups say the arrest and disappearance appears to be a warning for other activist leaders not to get involved in protests against the Letpadaung copper mine, Burma's largest.
 
For three months, residents and monks have demonstrated against the expansion of the China-backed copper mine saying more than 3,000 hectares of land were being taken illegally.
 
On Thursday, dozens were injured, including about 20 monks, when police cleared protest camps at the mine.  
 
Police used water cannons, tear gas, smoke bombs, and - according to activists - incendiary devices that left many with serious burns.
 
Bo Kyi says the crackdown left many monks angry and ready to join demonstrations, which authorities want to prevent.  He says their heavy-handed actions show freedom of assembly is not yet protected.
 
"Actually, we are really difficult to trust the government for the time being because they do not follow their promise, they do not follow the law," he said. "Even though those monks and villagers are doing peaceful demonstration they crack down very brutally and violent way."
 
The crackdown also raised concerns about how police deal with protests against projects backed by the previous military government.
 
The copper mine is a joint Burma-China development that, like most military-backed deals, was carried out with little transparency or public input.
 
As a sign of sincerity to resolve the conflict, Burma's President Thein Sein put opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in charge of an investigation into whether the copper mine should continue.
 
Meanwhile, demonstrators arrested last week in Rangoon calling for an apology for the crackdown were charged Tuesday with inciting unrest and denied bail.

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