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Myanmar Nationals Escape Thai Jail

November 22, 2000

SAMUT SAKORN, Thailand (AP) _ Myanmar nationals at a prison in southwestern Thailand took jail officials hostage Wednesday, killing one before escaping in a hijacked pickup truck, government officials said.

The eight escapees, who said they wanted to return home, were reported to have released four of their seven hostages after they fled Samut Sakorn prison, about 22 miles southwest of Bangkok. The bullet-riddled body of a man who taught Buddhism to the inmates was found inside after the breakout, a police doctor said.

The armed inmates seized a pickup truck inside the prison compound, waving grenades as they crammed into it, then used a blowtorch to cut open the main gate in the evening and headed toward the Myanmar border, about 75 miles to the west.

When they stopped at a closed gas station, one of the hostages, the prison warden, shouted a plea for police restraint in a cell phone call from the getaway truck to a Thai radio station.

``Please don’t do anything. These people are just immigrants. Please save our lives!″ screamed Somwongse Sirivejan as the Ruam Duey Chuay Kan radio station interviewed the leader of the fugitives, a man calling himself Maung Win.

At the gas station, the police blocked the pickup from proceeding. But after nearly two hours, police removed the blockade, two hostages were freed and the pickup continued toward the Myanmar border.

Listeners later heard police officials negotiate live over the air with the escapees.

The eight escapees were armed with guns, knives and grenades. The prison houses about 2,000 prisoners, both Thai and foreign, police said.

The inmates were imprisoned on charges including murder, assault and drug violations, said Siva Saengmanee, head of Thailand’s corrections department. It was not immediately clear if they had been convicted.

Samut Sakorn is a coastal province where many immigrants from impoverished Myanmar work as fishermen or menial labor.

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