Friday, January 23, 2009

Jailed Myanmar monk goes on hunger strike

BANGKOK (AFP) — A Buddhist monk imprisoned in Myanmar for leading street protests against the junta has gone on hunger strike to demand access to his family, according to an exiled group of former political prisoners.

Monk Gambira began to refuse food ten days ago, said Bo Kyi of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma.

Burma is the country's previous name.

"He was at Mandalay prison when his family visited him. He was not allowed to see his family, therefore he demanded a meeting with (them). Then he set on hunger strike," Bo Kyi said.

Gambira was transferred from Mandalay prison to the remote Hkamti prison three or four days later, Bo Kyi told AFP, citing his family members and prison sources.

The reports could not be confirmed by official sources.

Gambira was sentenced to 68 years in prison last November, for his involvement in monk-led protests against the regime in 2007.

The protests began sporadically against fuel-price hikes in the August, but subsequently involved tens of thousands of people, led by the monks.

At least 31 people were killed and 74 went missing in the brutal crackdown that followed the demonstrations, according to the United Nations.

In recent weeks about 270 activists including monks, student leaders and NLD members have been handed long jail terms for their roles in the 2007 protests and for helping victims of Cyclone Nargis last May.

In mid-January a Myanmar court also jailed a student activist for 104 years, while the junta freed six people who had campaigned for the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, officials said.

Myanmar's military rulers have kept 63-year-old Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Yangon for most of the past 19 years. She currently has an appeal pending against her detention.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the junta never allowed them to take office.

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