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Radio Free Asia

Veteran Myanmar Politician Nyan Win Dies in Detention of COVID-19

2021-07-20 -- Nyan Win, the spokesman for Myanmar's ousted National League for Democracy (NLD), died Tuesday after contracting COVID-19 in prison, prompting condemnation from observers who said the military had killed the veteran politician by detaining him during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

Reports of Nyan Win's death came as junta troops torched the homes of NLD supporters fleeing a military offensive against People's Defense Force (PDF) militiamen in northwestern Myanmar's war-torn Sagaing region that has killed more than a dozen people in recent days, including five civilians.

Nyan Win, a member of the NLD's Central Executive Committee and longtime confidante of former State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, died early Tuesday morning at the General Hospital in Myanmar's largest city Yangon as the result of complications from COVID-19, his lawyer San Mar La Nyunt told RFA's Myanmar Service.

The 79-year-old former High Court advocate and government prosecutor contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus while being held in a private cell in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison and was transferred to the hospital for treatment on July 11, she said.

"A relative of U Nyan Win was at his bedside at the hospital, so he wasn't alone [at the time of his death], despite the COVID," San Mar La Nyunt said, using a honorific to refer to the politician.

Nyan Win's body is being held at the hospital's mortuary and will be buried in a funeral ceremony on Wednesday, she added.

Myanmar's military overthrew the country's democratically elected government on Feb. 1, claiming that a landslide NLD victory in the November 2020 ballot was the result of voter fraud. The junta has provided no evidence to back up its claims and violently responded to widespread protests, killing 922 people and arresting 5,315, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Authorities arrested Nyan Win on Feb. 12, following the detentions of Aung San Suu Kyi and several other top party leaders in the wake of the coup. He had been charged with "defamation" under Section 505 (b) of the Penal Code after calling the takeover unlawful in an NLD statement.

Nyan Win was suffering from prostate and gastrointestinal disorders at the time of his arrest and a family member told RFA that the junta bears responsibility for the 79-year-old's death by jailing him amid a third wave of COVID-19 in the country.

"We lost Uncle Nyan Win—the main culprit for this is the military regime," the family member said. "I just hope that they will face the same fate."

Kyaw Thiha, a member of the NLD Central Committee and lawmaker representing Tharzi Township, said that the authorities are to blame for anyone who dies from COVID-19 while in detention, regardless of whether they suffer from a pre-existing medical condition.

"U Nyan Win was a veteran politician, and he was old. At the time of his arrest, he had other medical conditions, but he became infected with COVID-19 only after being sent to prison," he said.

"The people are now even losing their freedom to breathe … [The junta] have imposed restrictions on medical supplies and those in need cannot even get oxygen or proper medication. The government is responsible for all this."

Third wave of COVID-19

More than 240,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Myanmar since the start of the pandemic early last year and at least 5,567 have died.

Myanmar reported an average of more than 5,300 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the seven-day period ending Sunday and the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar warned Monday that a third wave of the outbreak could be potentially catastrophic for the country of 54 million people.

Hospitals are operating at capacity and amid a shortage of basic medical supplies.

Aung Kyi Nyunt, chairman of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Representative Committee (CRPH) and a member of the NLD's central executive committee, told RFA that he believes the junta "intentionally" allowed Nyan Win to die.

"He was sent to prison in his old age and no precautions were taken behind the prison walls to prevent COVID-19 infections," he said.

"If he had been outside, a man like him could have taken care of himself and stayed healthy."

Aung Kyi Nyunt said he was concerned for other jailed NLD leaders, as well as the country's political prisoners, and called on the international community to provide assistance to those at risk in detention.

A native of Mon state's Kyaikkami township, Nyan Win was elected as an NLD member of parliament in in 1990 and later served as the chairman of the Union Legal Aid Group during the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The NLD sent a message of condolence to his family Tuesday, pledging to continue its fight against the military regime and establish a federal democratic union in Myanmar.

NLD supporters targeted

Reports of Nyan Win's death came as residents of Shwebo township in Sagaing region told RFA that military troops are targeting NLD supporters amid an offensive that has killed at least five civilians in recent days.

In the aftermath of the coup, Myanmar's junta has stepped up offensives in remote parts of the country that have led to fierce battles with several local militias, including in Sagaing beginning in April. RFA has reported on several civilian deaths amid the fighting.

According to the family member of one of the victims, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, military troops killed four residents of Shwebo's Seik Khun village who were on a security patrol on the night of July 17, while a fifth was shot dead by soldiers in downtown Shwebo on Monday.

At least 5,000 residents of Seikhun have fled to the jungle since the beginning of June following reports that soldiers were hunting for PDF militia members in the area, sources said.

Tensions in the region have risen since early July, when a soldier was killed after a military convoy hit a mine near Shwebo township, and residents told RFA that troops now regularly open fire as they enter villages to conduct raids.

On Sunday, they said, the military set fire to one house each in the Shwebo villages of Tettu, Kantha and Palai.

A resident of Palai village said the torched homes were owned by NLD supporters and that the perpetrators were administrators appointed by the military.

"The village chairman appointed by the military regime burned the houses down himself," said the resident, who also declined to be named.

"We haven't been able to return to the village yet because the soldiers are stationed in the monastery. All the houses burnt down were those of NLD supporters."

Sources said PDF fighters have tried to repel soldiers patrolling in Shwebo township but were outnumbered and forced to retreat.

Soldiers killed by landmine

Separately, at least 10 junta soldiers from the military's 44th Light Infantry Division were killed Tuesday when their convoy hit a landmine outside of Sagaing's Mingin township, prompting a firefight with militiamen, a Mingin PDF member told RFA.

"They were returning to Mingin from Panset village, where they were stationed earlier," the PDF source said, adding that no militia fighters had been killed or injured.

"The mines were laid over a month ago and we thought they were duds … The soldiers were killed as their vehicle hit a mine. I can't say for sure exactly how many [died] because it happened at a distance."

Following the explosion, the military fired mortars on area villages, causing thousands of residents to flee the area, the PDF member said.

According to the United Nations and aid groups, conflict in Myanmar's remote border regions has displaced an estimated 230,000 residents since the junta coup. They join more than 500,000 refugees from decades of conflict between the military and ethnic armies who were already counted as internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the end of 2020, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a Norwegian NGO.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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