UN envoy pushes Myanmar on prisoners

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations human rights expertfor Myanmar urged the military junta on Friday to investigatereports that its soldiers shot dead a number of prison inmatesduring the recent devastating cyclone Nargis.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, who reports to the world body's HumanRights Council, also called for aid to be allowed to flowfreely to victims of the storm and said he had heard thatcritics of a referendum held in its wake had been arrested.

The Argentine lawyer, making his first report to theCouncil, said some 1,000 prisoners at the town of Insein hadbeen forced inside a hall after their jail's zinc roofs weretorn off in the storm on May 2, and many panicked.

"In order to control the situation, it is reported thatsoldiers and riot police were called in and opened fire on theprisoners in that area. A number of prisoners were allegedlykilled during the operation," his 16-page report said.

A Thailand-based rights group said at the time soldiers andpolice had killed 36 prisoners to quell a riot. Ojea Quintanadid not cite any total for the deaths.

"The authorities should conduct a thorough and transparentinvestigation to clarify the facts and identify theperpetrators of those arbitrary killings," he said.

Ojea Quintana urged the Myanmar authorities to honour anagreement with the U.N. to "allow international humanitarianworkers and supplies unhindered access to the country andparticularly to the areas affected" by Nargis.


On Friday, the Myanmar military accused "unscrupulous"citizens and foreign media of giving a false picture of theeffects of the cyclone, which left 134,000 dead or missing and2.4 million people in desperate need of help.

Dozens of Irrawaddy delta villages, some visited byReuters, have yet to receive any relief assistance since thestorm.

Ojea Quintana, who succeeded Brazilian lawyer Paulo SergioPinheiro as Myanmar investigator on May 1, said people reporteddetained for protesting over the constitutional referendum,were among 1,900 political prisoners in the former Burma.

These included monks rounded up after protests lastSeptember. All should be freed, he said, starting with Aung SanSuu Kyi, opposition leader and Nobel laureate under housearrest or in prison for nearly 13 of the last 18 years.

"Given her responsibility as National League for Democracy(NLD) General Secretary, her arrest affects the politicalrights of many other members of the NLD and of the people ofMyanmar," his report added.

Ojea Quintana noted that his predecessor Pinheiro hadreported after a rare visit to Myanmar last November that atleast 31 people had died in the crackdown on monk-led protests.

The new investigator urged the authorities in Yangon to setup a mechanism to trace people reported missing since then andvoiced hope he would also be allowed to visit the country soon.

In March, the Council unanimously condemned Myanmar forwhat it called "systematic violations" of fundamental freedoms.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robert Evans)