‘War Criminal’ Claims May Affect Burmese in Australia

Source from Irrawaddy news, 19 July 2011

Following claims by a Burmese refugee in Australia that he murdered dozens of political dissidents in Burma, the Australian Federal Police has been instructed to mount an investigation into the matter.

Australia’s Federal Attorney-General Robert McLelland referred the case to the federal police, calling it an “extremely serious matter,” according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

“Australia has a strong framework in place for protecting the Australian community from the perpetrators of war crimes, and for ensuring their proper investigation and prosecution,” the attorney-general reportedly said in a statement.

And within the Burmese activist community in Australia, there are fears that the statement made by Htoo Htoo Han may have far-reaching negative impacts on Burmese refugees and activists. 

Htoo Htoo Han told Australian media agencies that he killed dozens of Burmese activists while working as an undercover agent for the military regime in the late 1980s. He said that he can no longer keep his past a secret, and has begged for forgiveness from the families of his victims.

Htoo Htoo Han told the Australian Associated Press that he shot 24 people aged between 18 and 48 in the back of the head, and was involved in a further 100 killings. He provided the Australian news agency with details of the murders, and identified the locations at which the killings took place. He also provided notes with perfunctory descriptions of the victims, such as “student,” “Muslim” or “Burmese Communist Party.” 

However, several Burmese activists in Thailand said Htoo Htoo Han’s claims are lies, and that he probably just wants to get media attention by making outlandish claims. 

A formal political prisoner, Tate Naing, who is currently the secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said he met Htoo Htoo Han in Insein prison many years ago.

“Htoo Htoo Han may have his own agenda in making this statement,” he said. “But, he was not an intelligence official. All the information he claimed was incorrect.” 

Tate Naing said, “When I met him in prison in 1990, he was 16 years old. Therefore, it is impossible that he was an intelligence agent.” 

Tate Naing said that Htoo Htoo Han had been involved in some incidents while he was in prison. “He once beat an inmate in Thayarwaddy prison, and he often boasted that he was a spy,” he said. “But, he was also mentally unstable.” 

Some Burmese activists in Australia have said they are worried that Htoo Htoo Han’s claims will impact refugees who are awaiting resettlement in a third country or those who plan to resettle in the future. 

Some voiced concern that the screening process employed by Australian officials on Burmese activists and refugees may be affected. Others said that the Australian government may even order the police to investigate Burmese refugees already staying in the country. 

Htoo Htoo Han was quoted by Australian media as saying: “I am a war criminal. I want to say sorry to the mothers and fathers of the people I killed.” 

Some Burma watchers said that the Htoo Htoo Han case may  prompt the Australian government to reconsider its policy toward activists who are currently campaigning for a UN Commission of Inquiry against the Burmese government.

Myint Cho, a prominent Burmese activist in Australia, told The Irrawaddy that he doesn’t know much about Htoo Htoo Han, but he said that it is hard to believe his claims that he was a war criminal and a spy. 

“Without a doubt, there are war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma,” he said. “But it must be remembered that the heads of the Burmese government are the ones who committed those crimes. The current government is also responsible.”

In the past, Htoo Htoo Han has grabbed some media attention in Australia when he conducted a solo protest for the release of political prisoners in Burma.

According to several members of the Burmese community in Australia, he preferred performing as a “one-man show.”  

Htoo Htoo Han reportedly became involved in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, and was arrested and sentenced. He left for Thailand after he was released from prison and then resettled in Australia. He arrived in Australia in 1996 and was eventually granted citizenship. 

Htoo Han’s face Book page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/htoo.han

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