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Myanmar policeman who arrested Reuters reporters tells court he burned his notes

YANGON – A Myanmar police officer who was part of the team that arrested two Reuters journalists in December told a court on Tuesday that he had burned the notes he made at the time, but gave no reason why he had done so.

Police Second Lieutenant Tin Htwe Oo was the latest prosecution witness to give evidence at the Insein district court in Yangon, which will decide whether reporters Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, should be charged under Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

Tin Htwe Oo read from a notebook to recount details of the arrest, which he said was based on notes written at the time. Under cross-examination by the defense, he said he had burned his original notes, but had not been instructed to do so.

“Only the police will know the reason for that,” defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung told reporters after the hearing.

Dozens of reporters and diplomats were present when the Reuters journalists were brought in handcuffs from prison to the crowded courtroom.

They had worked on Reuters coverage of a crisis in Rakhine state, where an army crackdown on insurgents since the end of August has triggered the flight of 688,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, according to the United Nations.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were detained on Dec. 12 after they had been invited to meet police officers over dinner in Yangon. They have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some documents at a restaurant by two officers they had not met before.

Tin Htwe Oo made no reference to the restaurant meeting, saying police stopped the two reporters as they walked along a road. He said after stopping them, police discovered secret documents relating to the Rakhine conflict.

The arresting officers made an inventory of around 20 items in their possession – including their cell phone numbers and details of ATM and library cards – on the spot within 10-15 minutes, he said.

Defense lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he had asked Tin Htwe Oo repeatedly in cross-examination how they had been able to do this so quickly, but said he did not give a clear response.

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