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Former child soldier sentenced to death released from prison

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A former child soldier who spent seven years on death row has been freed with the help of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Phyo Sithu, now 21 years old, was sentenced to death in a case involving the shooting death of three soldiers including a junior officer.

Former child soldier Phyo Sithu and his mother Than Than Yi. Photo: MizzimaThe ILO contacted the Directorate of Prison Administration and the Burmese army and urged them to review the case in accordance with the childrens’ rights law.

Phyo Sithu was released from Kalay Prison in Sagaing Region on August 3, his lawyer, San Aung, told Mizzima. “The ILO contacted the relevant departments, and he was released eight months after the appeal,” he said.
Phyo Sithu, who lives in Aungchantha Quarter in Thanlyin, Rangoon, attended military training in Ayadaw in Sagaing Region and became a soldier with identification number (k/279449).

In 2005, the International Committee of the Red Cross sent a letter to Phyo Sithu’s parents, Win Bo and Than Than Yi, saying Phyo Sithu had been imprisoned in Kalay Prison, according to his parents. They made appeals for help to the Directorate of Prison Administration, the ILO and the United Nations Children's Fund asking that his sentence be commuted from death to imprisonment.

“When I heard that he received a death sentence, I was choked. My son went out from home with his friends and then he was recruited in the army. When my son was released from prison, I felt like I had won the lottery,” Than Than Yi told Mizzima.

In May 2003, Phyo Sithu was forcibly recruited into the army at the age of 14 and sent to Infantry Unit No. 50 (under the Northwest Command) in Gangaw in Magwe (Magway) Region.

Later, at a military base in the Reh area in Chin State, gun shots erupted in a dispute between soldiers; three soldiers including a second lieutenant died in the conflict. The Kalay Military Tribunal in Sagaing Region sentenced Phyo Sithu to death in May 2004.

“They were shot when they were sleeping. My friends shot them because they were furious. They [Phyo Sithu’s friends] were angry because the superior officer beat them up because they were not following orders. When we slept during sentry duty, he kicked us in the face, gave us blows and beat us with sticks. We were tortured,” Phyo Sithu told Mizzima when he arrived back home.

Second Lieutenant Yan Lin Tun, a corporal and a medical clerk died; three soldiers who were involved in the conflict fled to India, according to Phyo Sithu.

During the trial by the military tribunal, in addition to the conflict, incidents regarding misappropriation and corruption by military officers were revealed. As a consequence, three military officers including the commanding officer of Infantry Unit No. 50 were sentenced to three years in prison.

Phyo Sithu said: “A person riding a horse was carrying opium in a coconut and when Unit No. 1 caught the person, they accepted bribes and then released the person. They shared the bribes with the commanding officer. The case was revealed in our trial."

When he was forcibly recruited into the army, Phyo Sithu said he was forced to say that he had been 18 years old. In May 2011 when President Thein Sein signed a commutation order, all death sentences were commuted to a 20-year prison term.

In May 2011, the appeal to authorities that Phyo Sithu should be released was made in accordance with the Children’s Act. Section 46 of the 1993 Children’s Act states that children who committed crimes can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years.

Agence France-Presse reported in June that with the help of the ILO, there have been 174 cases of underage children who were recruited by the Burmese military who have been released to their families since 2007.

According to a report released in May by the Thailand-based Network for Human Rights Documentation–Burma, there were 21 child soldier cases from January 2011 to March 2011.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 07 September 2011 21:49 )  

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