UN rights envoy visits notorious Myanmar jail

Yangon, November 12:

A top UN human rights official today visited Myanmar’s notorious Insein prison on his mission to probe abuses and uncover how many people died during the junta’s suppression of pro-democracy protests.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, allowed back into Myanmar by the regime for the first time in four years, visited the jail outside Yangon for about an hour joined by UN and government officials, and escorted by police.

Human rights groups have called on the envoy to pressure the junta to release all political prisoners, with Amnesty International on Friday estimating 700 were still in detention.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was secretly held at Insein in 2003. At the time, former political prisoner Ko Aung told the BBC the British-built prison was known as the “darkest hell-hole in Burma”.

Pinheiro is expected to try to visit political detainees and to uncover the actual death toll from the recent protests. Earlier today, he met home affairs officials in Yangon and would later meet senior Buddhist monks, a Myanmar official told AFP.

Monks were at the forefront of the protests, which began in August in response to a spike in fuel prices but swelled in the following weeks into the biggest anti-government demonstrations the junta has faced since 1988.

The government maintains 10 people died but diplomats and dissidents have put the number far higher. “I hope that I will have a very productive stay,” the UN rights expert told reporters on arrival on Sunday, declining to give details about his itinerary, which he said was still being discussed.

Pinheiro had been expected to travel Monday to the new capital Naypyidaw to meet government ministers but that trip has been postponed, the Myanmar official said. It was not clear if Pinheiro, who will leave Myanmar on Thursday, would meet Suu Kyi.