Suu Kyi's supporters remain in prison in Kolkata

The Myanmarese nationals were arrested during 'Operation Leech' in February 1998 by a joint force of the army and navy, which had seized a vessel with a huge quantity of arms and ammunition and 73 persons onboard near the Andaman coast.

Of them, 34 were found to be Myanmarese nationals and the remaining were fishermen, who were released. The Myanmarese prisoners were held in Port Blair before their case was transferred to Kolkata in 2006.

A two-member UNHCR team recently called on officials of the West Bengal's Directorate of Correctional Services, earlier the jail department, here for permission to interview the Myanmarese prisoners who had sought refugee status.

The team from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) comprising Roberto Mignone, Deputy Chief of the Mission, and Kiran Kaur, Senior Protection Officer working with the agency, sought review of the status of Myanmarese nationals for their release.

The state's Additional Director General, Correctional Services, B D Sharma said he had assured the UNHCR of his cooperation for interviewing the Myanmarese nationals. Soe Myint, a court-appointed interpreter for the Myanmarese, said that the fine slapped on the 34 prisoners had been deposited.

"The freedom fighters have not been released even after their case was over. They are eagerly waiting for their freedom," said Myint, who has regularly interacted with the prisoners since 2006.

Sharma said, he also discussed legal aspects with the UNHCR officials. "I assured them help. They will come out soon with a detailed programme." He said the Deputy Secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Vinod Kumar, had recently written to Home Secretary G D Gautama requesting him to facilitate the interview between the UNHCR officials and the Directorate of Correctional Services in the state.

"Another UNHCR team will soon be here to interview the Myanmarese nationals at the Presidency Correctional Home and have further discussion with the directorate, if they like, to sort out the issue," Sharma said.

"Since the prisoners, who did not have any travel documents, are seeking asylum in India, their application has been forwarded to the MHA. Now, the Centre has to decide on the issue," Sharma said.

To a question, Sharma said that out of 34 prisoners, 31 have completed their sentence two months ago, but were still in prison as they had refused to return home and sought refugee status to stay back in India.

"The case of the remaining three are still pending in court," he said.

Their case was settled in a CBI court in July 2010 through plea bargaining as they had been in jail for 12 years, more than the penalty.

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