7 inmates shot dead, 12 hurt in failed jailbreak in Myanmar

BANGKOK (AP) — Seven prisoners were killed and 12 others hurt when they were shot as they tried to break out from a prison in north-central Myanmar, authorities said Wednesday.

About 50 prisoners tried to escape Tuesday by taking three guards hostage at Kalay Prison in Sagaing Region, which holds about 1,000 inmates, said a spokesperson for Myanmar’s Prison Department, Khin Shwe.

He said among the dead was a prisoner who led the attempted jailbreak.

A statement posted online by the Chin National Organization, a regional ethnic group opposed to Myanmar’s military government, identified the prisoner as 28-year-old Salai Shalom Siang Thang Lian, known as “Van Dam,” a member of the Chin National Defense Force, the group’s armed wing.

Sagaing Region and neighboring Chin State are strongholds of armed resistance to the ruling military, which seized power in February last year from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Khin Shwe said those trying to escapee were both political detainees and common criminals.

He said the prisoners had defied orders to surrender broadcast over a loudspeaker as well as a warning shot. The authorities then opened fire, aiming at their legs, he said.

The state-run Myanma Alinn Daily newspaper reported that two hostages with minor neck injuries had been hospitalized.

Khin Shwe denied a report posted by Khin Thit, an online news service that operates underground because it has been banned by the government, that at least 30 people had been killed and 30 others wounded when the military stormed the prison to end a standoff between the prison authorities and inmates.

A report released Tuesday by the U.N. human rights office said people released from detention in Myanmar have described harsh prison conditions, including significant overcrowding.

“Physical distancing was impossible and there was no treatment for those who contracted COVID-19,” it said. It cited interviewees from three different prisons across Myanmar who described how some convicts were effectively encouraged by prison authorities to “discipline” political detainees, leading to widespread extortion and abuse.

A top official of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday told The Associated Press that the humanitarian organization has been unable to visit prisons in Myanmar since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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