By Naw Noreen
A Canadian national released after nearly three weeks in custody in Burma has said he was unaware he had illegally strayed across the Thai border but was “very happy” to have been freed.
Ron Zakreski, 62, was picked up by Burmese police on 23 March in the Wawlay district of eastern Karen state, close to the border with Thailand, and charged under the Immigration Act.
“If anything, they should have a big border mark on the little bridge [connecting Thailand and Burma],” he told DVB yesterday. “I didn’t know.”
Zakreski said he had arrived on a songtaew (a Thai group taxi) close to the border, but wasn’t aware he had crossed into Burma when he came across a market. “I was walking around meeting people, thinking I am still in Thailand, when a motorcycle came up honking at me. I thought maybe I should go back to the bridge, and I started walking to the bridge.
“And another motorcycle came and there was an immigration officer on it with a uniform [and his siren going], and he said, ‘Wait a minute’. And I waited a minute. The minute went longer, a little bit longer and it went on for about two weeks I think.”
He said he was unsure how long he had been in custody for. “Today is 9 [April]; I entered on 23 March, I believe in the morning. You do the math, I am not really in the mood. But it was longer than I wanted to be. I had quite an adventure, no doubt about it.”
The 62-year-old, whom friends described as an intrepid traveler and keen photographer, was held in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy. There had been rumours that he was to be sent to Rangoon after senior government officials picked up on the incident, but that didn’t take place.
He appeared in a local court in Myawaddy last week, an incident he describes as “quite an emotional ride”.
“I was found guilty, sentenced to a fine; the judge offered to pay the fine for me. They took pictures of me, my camera was returned and I am done.
He added that after he was released the Burmese officials wished him well. “They wished me to come back, saying ‘Your visa is good – get a visa if you want. No hard feelings’.”
He was then taken to the banks of the Moei river which separates Thailand and Burma and escorted onto a boat. “I am very happy to be back in Thailand, to eat some Pad Thai [local noodle dish],” he finished.
A source in Myawaddy said he had been released after negotiations between Burmese officials and the Australian ambassador to Burma. Australia had been assisting in the matter, given that Canada has no diplomatic mission in Burma.