Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Top Burmese activist may go blind: US

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Military-ruled Myanmar's imprisoned pro-democracy activist Min Ko Naing may go blind after failing to receive medical treatment, the US State Department charged Tuesday.

The de facto number two opposition leader after democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi "has not received care for an eye infection that, if left untreated, could cause loss of sight," department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Student leader Min Ko Naing was arrested in August last year along with a dozen colleagues after he participated in a peaceful march over a sudden oil price hike that triggered wide-spread protests later and a deadly military crackdown.

He sought permission to see an eye specialist but the authorities at the Insein Prison in Yangon, where he is being held, refused, reports said.

"We condemn the failure of Burma's authorities to provide proper medical treatment to a number of prisoners, who may suffer irreparable damages due to the lack of prompt medical attention," Casey said.

Burma is the previous name of Myanmar.

In March, U Myint Thein, spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, died in Singapore from cancer that was left untreated while he was imprisoned for his role in the September pro-democracy protests, Casey said.

He also expressed concern that Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had still not received the monthly visits with her doctor as had been agreed with UN Special Envoy on Burma Ibrahim Gambari.

"We urge the regime to release all political prisoners immediately," Casey said.

"The intentional withholding of necessary medical treatment for political reasons is a serious violation of human rights. While these individuals are in the custody of the regime, they should receive the medical care they require," he said.

Rights groups say there are about 1,850 political prisoners in Myanmar, at least 700 of whom were arrested after anti-junta demonstrations last September.

The military crushed those protests in an operation the UN says killed at least 31 people.

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