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Released prisoners talk of terrible

BANGKOK POST (14 November 1997)

Released prisoners talk of terrible jail
Inmates forced to lie in their own faeces Drinking water was often green

Aphaluck Bhatiasevi

"Iwill never return to work as a fisherman again, never in Burmese
waters. That was the worst experience of my life."

For one fisherman just released from Insein Prison his time inside will
be something he will quickly want to forget.

"Although I've never been imprisoned in Thailand, I've heard that they at
least get proper food, live in clean rooms and can go to the toilet any
time," said Phem Phimphu, 28, from Roi Et.

He said at Insein almost 100 people were crammed into a poorly-ventilated
narrow room with few windows.

"The room was very stuffy and at night we had to sleep sideways, in four
rows, head-to-head and feet-to-feet," said Mr Phem. Dirt and dust were

"Many of us suffered from diarrhoea and we couldn't go to the toilet but
had to use tins, even when we were vomiting," said Mr Phem, who was
imprisoned for eight months. "I can't imagine how I survived in that
smelly and dusty room where we sometimes had to even sleep on the mess."

Berm Manangam, 33, from Khon Kaen, said the only food they got was soup,
soybean curry and rice, with the same dishes being repeated every day.

"I only ate my food when I was really hungry because often I would find
worms and all sorts of things in the soup. The water we got to drink was
often green," he said.

Mr Berm was imprisoned for almost 20 months for trying to illegally catch
fish in Burmese waters bordering Ranong.

Though he knew it was illegal he did it to earn extra cash.

"We could hardly catch any fish in our waters. On the other hand, in
Burma, we got all sorts of good quality seafood," he said.

He managed to evade Burmese authorities on several occasions and never
thought he would end up being jailed.

"Initially, when I was told that I had been sentenced to five years, I
felt like killing myself. The conditions there were really bad ... it's
like living in another world," he said.

Mr Berm said he often cried and felt helpless because he was not allowed
to contact his wife and two children, aged eight and six.

He could not understand why Burma treated prisoners whose offences were
not so bad so severely.

There was also a lack of medical care and many fell ill.

"Whenever they came to vaccinate us, four or five people would sit at
their desks with injections and we had to line up in rows. They injected
us with the same needles one after another," said Mr Berm.

Most of the prisoners released on Tuesday were found to be suffering from
a range of illnesses due to malnutrition, poor living conditions and
sub-standard care.

The Ministry of Public Health said of 98 prisoners released, only 28 were
in good health. The others had tuberculosis, skin infections, high blood
pressure and some had HIV.

Many were told not to talk about their prison ordeal for fear that it
will affect the release chances of some 100 remaining Thais.

"I don't know if we're supposed to talk about such things, but we want
our government to pay more attention to Thais caught abroad. We should at
least be treated like human beings," said Mr Phem.

Whereas Thailand treated illegal Burmese immigrants fairly, he said the
reverse was not true.

	Hopefully, Thai and other ASEAN people understand more how bitter
the life in Burma and how humanbeings are treated by the SLORC.