Burmese junta arrests British campaigner

Click to follow
BURMA'S MILITARY junta was threatening yesterday to take "severe action" against a young Briton, arrested for the third time in two years for distributing pro-democracy information.

James Mawdsley, 26, from Lancashire, was arrested on Tuesday in Tachilek, a border crossing with Thailand, while handing out anti-government leaflets and tapes. British and Australian diplomats were trying to find out where he was being held yesterday.

Mr Mawdsley, who also holds an Australian passport, has been branded a "mercenary subversive" by the authorities, which accuse him of working in collusion with "terrorist" groups based on the Thai-Burmese border. "The government took action against him leniently twice, but he has been persistently attempting to destabilise the peaceful situation in Myanmar," the official Myanmar News Agency said. "Severe action will be taken against him under the existing laws."

Mr Mawdsley has a website on which he talks of his determination to return to Burma, even if it means facing imprisonment and torture. "Surely Mr Mawdsley is crazy to go back to Burma!" he wrote before his arrest. "Last time he was imprisoned and sentenced to five years. He passed out twice under torture. After four weeks he had a fit and collapsed from lack of nutrition. He caught scabies and the `authorities' refused to hand over the treatment provided by the embassy."

Aung Thu Nyein, of the All Burma Students' Democracy Front in Thailand, said he tried to deter Mr Mawdsley from returning to Burma. "I told him it was very risky to go back and that I thought he would die if he did. But we could not alter his commitment."

Mr Mawdsley, a devout Christian, has been campaigning for democracy in Burma since 1997, when the school he was teaching at in a dissident camp was burnt down during a military offensive. He was deported in September of that year after painting pro-democracy slogans on a school wall in Rangoon and handcuffing himself to the gate.

After a second solo demonstration he spent 99 days in solitary confinement and was only released after pleas from his parents and the British and Australian embassies.

About 180 students have been detained this month after peaceful demonstrations.

In a letter to the junta, Mr Mawdsley asks for the release of all political hostages, the reopening of universities, an end to the "brutal intimidation"of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and the assumption of talks aimed at honouring the 1990 election result, which gave victory to the NLD.