KNU Leader’s Mahn Nyein Maung Whereabouts Still Unknown

Family members and colleagues have raised concerns over the disappearance nearly two months ago of Karen rebel leader Mahn Nyein Maung who achieved fame and notoriety for his extraordinary attempt to escape from Burma’s most notorious penal colony.

Currently, rumors have spread around Rangoon that Mahn Nyein Maung is being detained at a interrogation cell under tight security in Rangoon’s Insein Prison. No one is allowed to talk to or visit him, according to a source close to both Insein Prison and the KNU.

Mahn Nyein Maung, a leading member of the Karen National Union (KNU) and a central committee member of the ethnic armed alliance, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), disappeared at China’s Kunming Airport in late July.

His family and other sources on the Sino-Burmese border said that Mahn Nyein Maung was picked up in July by immigration officials in the Yunnanese capital after being sent back from Bangkok where he was denied entry. It was reported that he was then deported from China to Burma.

Mahn Nyein Maung’s close friend, Maung Kyaw Mahn, said that one of the KNU leader’s daughters phoned him from USA and asked about her father’s whereabouts. She wanted to know where her father is and wanted to campaign for an amnesty for him, he said.

“She wants to campaign for his safe release,” said Maung Kyaw Mahn. “Even if it turns out that her father has been detained by the Burmese security forces, she wants to ensure that they do not kill him.”

He said that Mahn Nyein Maung’s daughter has already written a letter of appeal to the US government asking for help in securing her father’s release.

Despite earlier reports that Mahn Nyein Maung had been deported to Burma, sources close to Chinese and Burmese intelligence, however, said that he is reportedly now at a safe place close to the Sino-Burmese border.

The sources said Mahn Nyein Maung had earlier traveled to Yunnan from his home in Thailand to observe first-hand the armed conflict between ethnic armed groups and government troops near the  border.

One of the sources said that the authorities in Yunnan insisted that Mahn Nyein Maung buy an air ticket with his own money for a flight to Rangoon. However, he allegedly disappeared while being kept at a hotel before his flight to Rangoon.

More than one month after his disappearance and it was reported that he was in hands of Burmese intelligence officials. However, the government neither disclosed his whereabouts nor denied his arrest.

The KNU leadership announced that Mahn Nyein Maung had disappeared two months ago, and that he had not informed the KNU central committee members about any trip to China. Sources close to the KNU intelligence officials said the KNU also believed that Mahn Nyein Maung was arrested by the Burmese authorities.

Sources close to the Kunming authorities, however, said that Mahn Nyein Maung is more likely staying at the Sino-Burmese border, probably in an area controlled by an ethnic militia in the Wa region of eastern Shan State or in northern Burma.

When asked, Aung Myint of United Wa State Army told The Irrawaddy that he does not know the whereabouts of Mahn Nyein Maung.

When the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) heard that Mahn Nyein Maung had been picked up in Kunming in late July, they contacted the Chinese authorities—only to be told that the Karen leader had already been deported to Burma, according to sources close to the KIA.

The UNFC has also stated that Mahn Nyein Maung did not declare to the organization any intention to travel to China.

Mahn Nyein Maung was a former underground activist inside Burma. In 1960, he was arrested and sent to the Coco Islands, an infamous detention center for political prisoners located about 300 km off the Burmese mainland in the Indian Ocean.

Mahn Nyein Maung and two other political prisoners, Mahn Aung Kyi and Aung Ngwe, managed to escape from the island by floating across the Indian Ocean clutching driftwood. However, they were rearrested when they reached the Burmese mainland. It was the only known escape from the prison, known as “Burma’s Devil’s Island.”

Due to his extraordinary escape from the prison at Coco Island, Mahn Nyein Maung was sometimes described as “Burma’s Papillon” after the famous French prisoner Henri Charrière who escaped a penal colony in French Guyana. Like Charrière, Mahn Aung Kyi wrote and published a book about his experiences inside the brutal prison at Coco Island and his subsequent escape.

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