November 17, 2008 / 11:57 PM / 11 years ago

Myanmar disperses dissidents throughout its gulag

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar’s junta has sent dozens of political prisoners recently sentenced to up to 65 years in jail to far-flung corners of its gulag, making it hard for family members to deliver food and medicine, relatives said on Monday.

Without the informal delivery of supplies such as malaria and vitamin pills, detainees face a far greater risk of dying behind bars, say former political prisoners who have fled to Thailand.

“They were taken in secret from Insein Central Prison through the back gate early on Sunday morning,” Ko Aung, the younger brother of former student activist Ko Ko Gyi, said. “We waited at the front gate hoping to see them but didn’t get the chance.”

The U.S. government denounced Myanmar’s military rulers for what it called “arbitrary sentencing” of dissidents and “persistent repression of its people.”

“The international community and the United Nations Security Council must not remain silent as the regime demonstrates yet again its contempt for universal freedoms and its disdain for the international community’s calls to release all political prisoners,” the White House said.

Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing, the former Burma’s best known political prisoner after detained opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have been dispatched to Kentung in northeast Myanmar, 1,200 km (750 miles), from Yangon.

Other activists from the “88 Generation Students” arrested last August after several small fuel price protests were sent to Kawthoung in Myanmar’s southern tip, and others to Putao, in the Himalayan foothills of the far north.

Many of the prisoners, some of whom spent more than a decade in jail after leading a brutally crushed uprising in 1988, are already thought to be in poor health.

“It’s too bad,” said Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, more than a dozen of whose members are among the 60-odd dissidents sentenced to jail in the last two weeks.

“It must have been done with intent to punish their families too. It will be very difficult for people to visit them,” he said.

The sentences range from 65 years for prominent dissidents to 20 years for a blogger and four months for defence lawyers who took up the plight of the dissidents.

The junta’s official media have made no mention of the sentences, which rights groups say are a campaign to eradicate all political opposition in the run-up to a 2010 election, the final stages of a much-derided “roadmap to democracy.”

Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Additional reporting by Washington bureau; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Cynthia Osterman

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