CHRO

by Jennifer Gold
Christian Today
Posted: Friday, January 26, 2007, 10:14 (GMT)
Representatives from the Chin and Kachin ethnic groups in Burma met earlier in the week with the UK Minister of Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, Ian McCartney MP.

It was the first time that Chin and Kachin representatives have met with a UK Foreign Office minister, and the meeting lasted approximately an hour.

The delegation raised concerns about religious freedom violations in Burma, and called on the British Government to urge the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to conduct a thorough investigation into the situation in Burma.

The delegation encouraged the British Government to call on the European Union to send a strong signal to the regime in Burma that the current human rights violations in the country are not acceptable, and that China and Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution on Burma does not give the regime a green light to commit these violations.

They also called for the EU to strengthen its common position on Burma, including meaningful targeted economic sanctions, when this is reviewed in April.

The delegation urged the British Government to put pressure on China, India and ASEAN to use their influence on the regime to progress towards a peaceful solution for the country.

Sexual violence in Chin State, forced labour and the situation in Kachin State were also discussed.
Victor Biak Lian, from the National Reconciliation Programme of the Union of Burma, says: “The overwhelming message from our delegation was the need for meaningful tripartite dialogue between the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the National League for Democracy and the ethnic nationalities, but we need the international community to put pressure on the SPDC if we are to achieve this.

“We are therefore privileged to be given this time with the Minister and we thank him for his efforts in helping to bring Burma to the UN Security Council’s agenda. We hope the UK Government takes forward our proposals to help secure a peaceful future for Burma.”

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Advocacy Officer for South Asia and author of the recent report Carrying the Cross, said: “The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma, says: “Today’s meeting was very positive and we found the Minister engaging and sympathetic. The UK supported the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Burma. We therefore call on the UK to use its diplomatic influence to continue to build international efforts for change in Burma.”

The Aizawl Post
March 10, 2007
Aizawl: Chin Christians around the world has issued a joint statement yesterday condemning the Burmese military regime State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for it’s systematic persecution against Chin Christians in Burma and urged the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to investigate violations of religious freedoms in Burma.

The statement was initiated by Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and endorsed by Chin community around the world, including Chin Baptist Fellowship of America (CBFA) comprise with 13 Chin Churches in USA and Canada, Chin Churches in Australia along with Chin Christian Fellowship in Denmark, and Norway Chin Christian Fellowship.

Apart from Chin Churches around the world, there are several political and social organization that endorse the statement calling for the UN to investigate. Chin National Council comprise with major Chin political parties and several civil society organizations such as Chin Forum, Chin Freedom Coalition, Chin National Community in Japan, Chin Community in Norway, Chin Student Union in North America, Malaysia and India are also in the list among those who endorse the statement.

Burma’s ruling military government has an extraordinary record on rampant human rights violations. However, according to CHRO, persecution against Christian is a major concern in Chin state where 90% of Chins are Christians.

Burma is branded by the US Department of State as country of particular concern for religious persecution against minority religions such as Christian in the country.

During January and February this year a delegation of predominantly Christians from Burma; Chin and Kachin have launched advocacy campaign in European Union and the United States.

The delegation led by London based Christian Solidarity Worldwide comprised with Chin Human Rights Organization, Women League of Chinland, and Kachin Women Association. The mission was widely covered by several international media and applause by Chin community worldwide as milestone achievement for persecuted Christians in Burma.

The delegation has met with high profile government officials and several faith based rights organization in Europe and in the United States. The delegation had met with UK Minister of Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, Ian McCartney MP, several MP from Britain and European Union, officials from German Foreign Affairs in Europe.

In the United States, the delegation have met with official from the White House, several senior officials from the US State Department Including Ambassador Hanford, Ambassador Reese, and Senior policy advisor to secretary of State, and several Senators including office of Republican Presidential candidate Senator Sam Brownback and House of Representatives at the Congress including Congressman Joseph Pitt and office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“When the present Burmese military regime started militarization in Chin state since the early 1990s, the Chin Christians helplessly watch the crosses they have planted destroyed one by one and replaced by Buddhist pagodas where they were forced to contribute money, labor and construction materials” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang of Chin Human Rights Organization during a briefing organized by US Congressional Human Rights Caucus Task Force for International Religious Freedom at the Congress.

In January CSW launched a report entitled Carrying the Cross: The Military Regime’s Campaign of Restriction, Discrimination, and Persecution Against Christians in Burma. And in the following week an Early Day Motion was introduce in the British House of Commons urging the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to investigate violations of religious freedoms in Burma.

On March 10, the Day of Prayer for Burma will be held at St Michael’s Church, Chester Square, London where MP John Bercow will join and speak on the British government’s policy towards Burma.

In 2004 CHRO published “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christian In Bumra”

By Muana
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

18 December 2006 – The people of Mizoram have been cited as a model for East Burma in term of politics and human rights by the Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization.

Salai Bawilianmang, Director, CHRO has held up Mizoram as a model for people struggling for civil and political rights in an on-line interview on December 15. Mizoram went through 20 years of strife and now manage (to some extent) their own affairs. This is an ideal not only for the people of Chin state, but for all people struggling for self determination.

Mizoram enjoys freedom of the press, culture, religion, language, tradition and education while Burma has denied every right mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to its citizens.

CHRO congratulated the Young Mizo Association for adopting a resolution to promote the principles of oneness among the people of Mizoram and Chin state in a recently concluded conference. CHRO hopes to find a favourable solution to the Burmese refugee problems in Mizoram, without any precondition with the YMA, church groups and the Mizoram government.

Meanwhile, CHRO’s is into international lobbying and advocacy for Burmese refugees in Mizoram, who cross the international boundary in search of a shelter. Salai Bawilianmang clarified that cross border traders, who criss-cross the border every day, are not presented as refugees. The victims of a political system of Burma are refugees. This is what it holds up while lobbying and advocating their cause.

“Categorizing refugees as economic migrants, political asylum seekers and so on and so forth is very complicated. If you look at just the surface many will just look like economic migrants. But when you dig deeper for the reason as to why they come here (Mizoram), you will to see a bigger and clearer picture of the situation that the Burmese military government has created,” Salai Bawilianmang added.

India, as an emerging world power and the biggest democracy in the world, is expected to stick to the ‘non-refoulement provision’ while dealing with Chin refugees, who face persecution because of their belief in democracy. According to Amy Alexander, CHRO’s legal consultant, the idea is that “no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture.”

The CHRO thanked the entire Mizo people for generously hosting several thousands of Chin refugees from Burma for several years. CHRO is engaged in a series of advocacy programmes for Chin refugees and will continue its advocacy with hope, like always, so that it bears positive fruits for both the refugee community and the host local community.
“I would prefer to focus on Chin refugees in our conversation,” said Salai Bawilianmang.
CHRO operates mainly from Canada where it is legally registered with the government of Canada. It has branches in U.S.A, India, Thailand and Malaysia.

(Original version of interview)
AN ONLINE INTERVIEW FROM MUANA OF MIZZIMA NEWS
TO
SALAI BAWI LIAN MANG AT CHRO

[Note: This online interview to CHRO director Salai Bawi Lian Mang was conducted on December 15 by Muana of Mizzima News based in New Delhi. The interview is focus on the Situation of Chin refugees in Mizoram and the exchange of letter and words between Young Mizo Association (YMA) and Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO)]

Questions

1. The letter was not an ‘Open Letter’ nor a copy has to be made available to the press. Is it a failure to follow formality or intent?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I think you mean the appeal letter sent by CHRO to YMA that was covered by several Mizoram Newspapers a month ago.

Well, before I am going straight to your question, please allow me to say that I and the CHRO team would like to offer our utmost congratulations to the YMA for successfully concluding their annual conference recently. We are glad that the YMA has adopted to promote the principle of brotherhood and oneness “hnam pumkhat na” among the Chin/Mizo people in one of their resolutions. I and the CHRO team warmly welcome the gracious step taken by the YMA.

Regarding the letter, in fact it was not a failure to follow formality or intent. It was a very positive diplomatic appeal letter between two brothers. We can sum up the appeal letter in four points. 1. The CHRO congratulates YMA for the wonderful job they have been doing for the past several years. 2. We thank the entire Mizo people for generously hosting several thousands of Chin refugees from Burma for several years. 3. We briefly highlight the persecution faced by the Chin people at the hand of one of the most brutal Burmese military regime and we ask India to stick with non-refoulement principle when dealing with the Chin refugees as an emerging world power player in international politics 4. We request the YMA to find favorable solution to solve the refugee problems in Mizoram.

It was great that the press in Mizoram picked up the letter and the issue in several papers. That shed some lights on the real situation that caught the attention from the concern people/official.

2. Explain more of “Non-refoulement principle”, which the people of Mizoram is not familiar with.

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Generally speaking, the principle of non-refoulement is fundamental to refugee law.  Its expression in the Refugee Convention in 1951 played a key role in how states deal with refugees and asylum seekers. According to the CHRO legal consultant, it is the idea that ‘no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution or torture’.

One may argue that India is not a signatory country of 1951 Refugee Convention. It is true. But as we have mentioned in the letter, as an emerging world power and the biggest democracy country in the world, we expect India to stick with non-refoulement principle while dealing with the Chin refugees. The Chin have faced persecution because of their belief in democracy, Christianity and their ethnicity and India as our closet democracy country know very well the persecution the Chin people are facing in their home land.

3. Few Burmese are registered as political refugees (around 40) in Mizoram. Do Non-refoulement principle cover the economic migrants?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I would prefer to focus about Chin refugees in our conversation. We do not know exactly how many Chins are registered political refugee in Mizoram. I hope you still remember refugee camps set up by the Indian government in 1988. There were at least three refugee camp opened to shelter refugees from Burma who have fled after the popular 1988 uprising. The two camps were in Mizoram, and I hope you aware that the majority of the refugees at the camps were Chins.

Even though the refugee camps have been dissolved, that does not mean that there is no more refugees from Burma (especially the Chins) in Mizoram or in India. There are still thousands of Chin refugees living in Mizoram.

What you have said is correct that only a very few people are registered political refugees and we never mention the role of cross borders traders who criss-cross the border every day. However, if you look at those registered refugees they are such as an elected Member of Parliament during the 1990 general election in Burma and the rest are political leaders and high profile activists. Where are all those, more than 50 thousands, ordinary refugee who come to cross the international boundary in search of a safe haven?

Categorizing the refugees such as economic migrants, political asylum seekers so on and so forth is a very complicated one. If you look at just the surface many will just look like economic migrants. But when you dig deeper the reason why they come here, you will come to see a bigger and clearer picture the situation that the Burmese military government have created. During one of my lobby mission trip to Washington DC at the State Department Bureau for Population, Refugee and Migration, one of the program officers told me her experience talking with one of the “migrants” who do not approach UNHCR or the refugee camp, from Burma.
The conversation goes like this;
[ Why are you coming here?
Oh, I got a better job and I earn more money here.
What did you do for a living in Burma?
I used to own a ferry and I operate it as our family business.
What happen to your ferry?
No more, the army confiscated it and I have no other way to support my family and I come here to work.]

Now, the question is, who is this person? Is he an “opportunist” economic migrant or a victim of political system in the country?

Look at the Chin situation, they have been forced to works in the government and army project, calls to serve as porters at any time, prohibited to cut or burn or work at their farm at whim. How will they survive if they continue to live in that situation? When those people come to cross the international boundary in search of a safe haven shall we call them economic migrants or victims of political system in Burma?

4. CHRO is willing to find favorable solution to refugees problems in Mizoram with YMA. How can this be work out? What is CHRO proposal?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Yes indeed. We do want to find a favorable solution to the refugee problems in Mizoram with the YMA, the Church groups, and the government.

The people of Mizoram and the government have been very generous to the Chin refugees and we are so grateful for that. However, there must be a better solution in terms of the treatment of Chin refugees in Mizoram. We do not have a precondition. That is why we need to meet and talk and find out practical and workable solution from both sides.

5. How will the people of Mizoram help in the restoration of democracy and human rights in Burma?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: There is many ways. The people of Mizoram should know that they are the model for their brothers and sisters from the East in terms of politics and human rights this is the best chance for them to offer a helping hand.

Look at the Mizoram, they have gone through 20 years of revolution and now the MNF is the state government. They are managing their own affairs (for some extend). This is a very good model not only for the Chin who are struggling for their self determination but also for many other people who are struggling for civil and political rights.

Look at the freedom they enjoy in press, culture, religion, language, and tradition and of course in education. While the people of Mizoram enjoy all these freedom and rights, their brothers and sisters, the Chins, in the east are denied every right mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

6. How effective is the international campaign for the refugees in Mizoram? Does it repulsively effect the people of Mizoram to give more pressure upon the Burmese refugees?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: As you know we are now living in the age of information and the world become so small, even for the Chins and Mizos. In this small global village, we are just the dark corner of one of the blocks. And I do not believe that the international lobby and advocacy for Chin refugees in Mizoram will give negative effects on the refugees. We have been doing this advocacy works for the past several years and there are many developments in terms of the situation of the refugees. At present, while answering your questions, the CHRO is engage in a series of advocacy works for the Chin refugees in Washington DC meeting with the US department of State, several faith based rights groups and refugee agency, the UNHCR, INTERACTION (American Council for Voluntary International Action) not only in India but also in Malaysia. We will continue the advocacy work in the coming January in London, Brussels and Oslo. And I hope that, like always, this advocacy mission will bear a positive fruits for both the refugee community and the host local community, I mean both Mizoram and in Malaysia.

We need to move forward with the pace of the international flow. If we continue to lock our selves in this dark corner of the global village, that will not benefit anyone. It is time to embrace the reality and go along with the international flow.

7. Do you visit the YMA leadership in your last trip to Mizoram? If yes, what is the outcome of the meeting? If no, why?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: I did not visit YMA leadership in my last trip to Mizoram because they were busy right after their conference and also I think that that was not the right time to make an effort to meet with them. I hope we will be a better chance in the near future.

8. How many CHRO braches are there all over the world? How many regular workers are there and who is the main funder of CHRO?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: In fact the CHRO is a small organization. We just look big from outside as we stretches ourselves in Canada, USA, New Delhi, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The main operation is from Canada where we register legally to the government of Canada. And Delhi office is main for field operation in India and Chiangmai is center for Thailand and Malaysia. And I am now based in California.

There are 8 people working as regular staff/field workers and there are several volunteers.

In terms of funding sources; our main funders include, National Endowment for Democracy based in Washington DC, Inter Pares based in Ottawa, Canada, Euro-Burma office based in Brussels, United Nations Voluntary Fund, NCIV based in the Netherlands, SWERA based in Sweden, and AIPP based in Thailand.

For the refugee advocacy works, our main funding source is from Chin churches around the world. 7 Chin churches from the USA, 2 Chin churches from Canada, three Chin Churches from Europe; Norway, Denmark and Germany, and 2 Chin churches from Australia and there are a number of individual funders. Well, our funders and supporters covered the world but we are a mall organization.

9. How do CHRO work with Chin National Front and other Burma issue related NGO’s?

Salai Bawi Lian Mang: The CHRO and the CNF are two different organizations. The only connection we have in terms of working together is through Chin National Council where both the CHRO and CNF are members but with different background. The CNF comes to CNC from political background and the CHRO comes to the CNC from civil society background. But while collecting the news and information inside Chin state, we got the CNF protection from time to time.

In terms of Burma issue related NGO’s we are willing and committed to work together with any one who share the same interest with the CHRO. One example is we have been doing lobby mission with the National Coalition Government of Union of Burma at the third committee of United Nations General Assembly.

10. Any other comment.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang: Thank you very much. Sorry for making you wait so long and please accept my apology for that.

The Aizawl Post
December 7, 2007-Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) had testified about decades long systematic persecutions of Chin Christians at a public hearing on Burma at the Capitol Hill on Monday. The hearing was organized by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a non-partisan panel appointed by the United States president and leaders of Congress.

The hearing of the Commission comes as Congress began an intense two week period in which lawmakers must approve a range of important policy legislation.

Mr. Richard Land, vice Chairman of USCIRF who chaired the hearing at the Congress quoted Dr. Martin Luther King in his opening remark that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressors. It must be demanded by the oppressed”. He continued that “The people of Burma are demanding their liberty. It is time for the world to join them fully in this cause”.

The seven witness at the hearing along with Salai Bawi Lian, co-founder and director of CHRO includes Dr. Ashin Nayaka, a Buddhist Scholar and an exile Burmese Buddhist monk who is a visiting professor at Columbia University, Ms. Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Arakan Project and consultant for Refugee International and UNHCR, Aung Din, Policy Director at U. S Campaign for Burma, Paul Rush, a journalist who witnessed and report bloody crackdown in Burma during September, Michael Green, Professor at Georgetown University and former Special Assistant on National Security Affairs to President Bush, Jared Genser, President of Freedom Now and an attorney in the global government.

Salai Bawi Lian, said at the hearing that “the whole world was shocked to see how the Burmese military junta persecuted Buddhist monks in the street of Rangoon a few months ago. In fact the successive Burmese military junta has been systematically persecuting religious minority groups such as Chin Christians for decades.”

He continued that “the Burmese military junta violate the religious freedom rights of Chin Christians that they prohibit construction of churches, destroyed crosses and replaced with pagodas or statue of Buddhist monk, censor Christian literature and publication, restrict on freedom of assembly and worship, discriminate based on ethnicity and religion”.

Ashin Nayaka, a Buddhist scholar and leading member of International Burmese Monks, said monks were a symbol of hope for reforms in Burma but were “forcibly disrobed, assaulted, arrested and killed” by the military junta.

Paul Rush, a journalist whose video footage of Burmese troops in Rangoon shooting and killing a Japanese journalist was widely seen around the world suggests Burma’s military is likely continuing a brutal crackdown.

“The Burmese people, which include the country’s badly-persecuted ethnic minorities need the help of the international community, to shed this yoke of a half a century of oppression by a minority of murderous military elite. That I presume is why this hearing is taking place today and is why the international community is still listening,” said Mr. Rush.

A former Special Assistant on National Security Affairs to President Bush, Professor Michael Green, says while there have been some positive developments, including high profile attention from the Bush administration, some strong statements from ASEAN, and what he calls small but unprecedented steps by China, there has also been substantial inertia by the international community.

Mr. Green says China and India may be tempted to accept limited results, while he asserts that the United Nations continues to pursue what he calls a lowest common denominator approach. ASEAN, he asserts, is going backwards in its role perhaps because of pressure from Burma’s military on what he calls like-minded members.

Aung Din, policy director of the United States Campaign for Burma, urged the U.S government to appoint a full-time sanctions coordinator for Burma as it did in the late 1990’s against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s regime accused of genocide.

The U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U. S government agency that was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of though, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and the Congress of the United States.

The Aizawl Post
Aizawl-May 20, 2008: The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by 92 percent of the people on the May 10 referendum with 99 percent eligible voter turned out while several rights groups and the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) led by noble peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi said that, voting in the May 10 constitutional referendum was fraught with threat, intimidation and manipulations by the authorities.

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) a leading human rights organization from western Burma, reports that the Chin people from several major towns in Chin state including their capital Hakha voted against the military-backed constitution amidst widespread coercion and intimidation by military authorities.

In Chin state all government employees were asked to vote in mandatory early polls or by mail-in voting before the actual voting date. These early voters are required to put in their names and national registration number on the ballot. There are reports of threats of employment termination and revocation of family registration for those found to have voted ‘No.’ In Kalay Township of Sagaing Division, where there is a significant Chin population, local officials were reported to have visited residences beforehand and asked people to fill in the ballot on-site along with their names and national registration number.

“In some polling stations, poll workers are clothed in white T-Shirts that have “Let’s Vote Yes” written on them in Burmese with illustration of a checked box. Elderly voters and people who cannot read Burmese are greeted by these workers and explained to them what they should do by pointing to the writings on their T-Shirts” said Terah Thantluang one of CHRO top officials who closely watched the referendum.

Since the beginning of April the military regime has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade voters in Chin State to approve its draft constitution. On April 4, Naypyidaw sent Major General Thura Aung Ko, Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs to Chin State where he urged Chin voters to vote for the new constitution saying, “It took the army 14 years to complete the draft and unless you approve this constitution, it will take another 14 years of military rule to prepare another draft.”

On April 10, the State Peace and Development Council held a mock referendum in Chin State capital of Hakha in which 150 people were randomly called in to vote. Over 80 percent of the people voted “No” in the mock poll, prompting Major General Hung Ngai, Chairman of Chin State Peace and Development Council to travel to several townships and distributing free rice to people in an effort to court Chin voters.

The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that about two weeks prior to the referendum, 16 army patrol columns consisting of several hundred Burmese troops no less than 300 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 226 (based in Hakha), LIB 268 (Based in Falam), LIB 228 (Based in Kalay Myo), LIB 89 (Based in Kalay), LIB 289 (Based in Teddim) and LIB 274 (Based in Mindat), were sent to remote areas along India-Burma border to campaign for the referendum. According to local villagers in these areas, Burmese troops threatened them with 3 years of imprisonment and 300, 000 Kyats in monetary fines for anyone found to have cast a “No” vote. “Your only way out of military rule is through voting “yes” in this referendum” was the army’s message to rural Chin public.

Seven arrests were reported in Thantlang and Paletwa Township in the days leading up to the referendum in connection with leaflets produced by opposition groups urging citizens to reject the constitution. Three were confirmed released after two days in interrogation. The fate and whereabouts of the remaining four remain unclear.

The Burmese military junta announces on May 15 that the military backed constitution was approved by more than 90 percent of the vote while 47 of the country’s 324 townships devastated by cyclone Nargis have had their vote postponed until May 24th.

“These reports only show how flawed the whole voting process is and how far the SPDC is willing to go to skew and manipulate the results in its favor. But we know that the majority of the people of Burma voted against it. And in Chin state in particular, we have closely monitored the voting and the Chin people from major towns including the capital Hakha voted against it” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization.

Flowering Bamboo Leads to Starvation in Burma

By Joan Delaney
Epoch Times Staff
Jul 22, 2008
A Burmese advocacy team is seeking Canada’s help for 100,000 people in Burma’s Chin State who are facing a serious food crisis as a result of a rat invasion.

The mass flowering of bamboo has led to an explosion of rats which are destroying basic crops and paddy fields in the region. Chin State covers almost 14,000 square kilometres, roughly one fifth of which is covered by bamboo.

“The situation is at a critical point,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, head of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) which is monitoring the situation. “The people of Chin State are on the brink of starvation.” he stated in a news release.

The mass flowering of bamboo is an unusual natural phenomenon that occurs every 50 years in Chin State and in bordering Mizoram State in India. At least 200 Chin villages along the Burma, India and Bangladesh border are directly affected.

“The people of the western border of Burma had little assistance from the international community while the eastern border has been enjoying international support,” said Salai Victor Lian, a prominent Chin political figure working with Burma’s Ethnic Nationalities Council.

Before his arrival in Ottawa, Lian was in the United Kingdom meeting with ministers and senior government officials.

Recently, Chin activists in India formed the Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee and started to take necessary action to help the people of Chin State.

Meanwhile, well known singers including Burma’s Sung Tin Par are giving a series of concerts in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore to raise funds for the people of Chin State.

The Canadian Friends of Burma is also working with the CHRO to highlight the situation in Canada.
http://en.epochtimes.com/n2/canada/burma-chin-state-rat-invasion-bamboo-1532.html

Burma: Cyclone, Starvation – Now Plague of Rats Devastates Burmese Villages
Generals ignore a once in 50-year freak of nature that wrecks communities

Pete Pattisson in Chin state, Burma
The Guardian (UK): September 10, 2008
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/sep/10/burma.famine
It is an impressive arsenal – more than 100 weapons, each with a sensitive trigger – but it is a feeble defence against the enemy threatening Mgun Ling and his village in Chin state, deep in the jungles of western Burma.

Theirs is an unconventional war: their weapons are traps, their enemy rats.

“We can catch hundreds of rats a night, but it makes no difference,” said Mgun Ling. “They just keep coming. They’ve destroyed all our crops, and now we have nothing left to eat.”

Four months after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma, another natural disaster has struck the country. This time the ruling military regime has had 50 years to prepare for it, yet it has still proved unable and unwilling to respond.

The disaster, known in Burma as maudam, is caused by a cruel twist of nature. Once every 50 years or so the region’s bamboo flowers, producing a fruit. The fruit attracts hordes of rats, which feed on its seeds. Some believe the rich nutrients in the seeds cause the rodents to multiply quickly, creating an infestation. After devouring the seeds, the rats turn on the villagers’ crops, destroying rice and corn. In a country once known as the rice bowl of Asia, thousands of villagers are on the brink of starvation.

The last three cycles of flowering occurred in 1862, 1911 and 1958, and each time they were followed by a devastating famine. The current maudam is proving just as disastrous. A report last month by the Chin Human Rights Organisation estimates that up to 200 villages are affected by severe food shortages and at least 100,000 people, or 20% of the population of Chin, are in need of immediate food aid.

Chin, home to the ethnic minority Chin people, is one of the most undeveloped and isolated regions of Burma. These remote mountainous communities, which survive on subsistence farming, have reached breaking point.

“We have no food left,” said the head of one village. “Last year during the harvest the rats came and ate almost all our rice. Our corn has also been totally destroyed. I have just one bag of rice left for my family. After that there’s nothing. People in my village are going into the jungle to find wild vegetables, like leaves and roots to mix with a little rice. Our situation is desperate.”

Leisa, 74, who witnessed the last maudam, claimed that this famine was worse. “In the past the bamboo flowered all at one time. The rats came, destroyed our crops, and then left. This time the bamboo is flowering in patches and each time it flowers, a new wave of rats come. Previously, we suffered for just one or two years, but now we are worried it may last seven or eight years.”

The crisis is turning villages into ghost communities, as the Chin leave their homes in search of food, or a new life, in India. One village headman said: “Last year, we had 60 households in our village but half have already moved to India due to the food crisis. Even with only 30 households there is still not enough food for everyone.”

Every day, scores of villagers follow a tortuous mountain track to an unmanned border post into India, battling monsoon downpours, knee-deep mud and malaria. Some move to India for good, others like Chitu trek for days to buy food and haul it home. “Every single week we have to walk to India to buy rice there. The round trip takes four days. My children have had to stop going to school because they have to spend all their time carrying rice.”

Despite the predictability of the disaster, there has been no sign of help from the Burmese junta. One village chief said: “We made a formal request to the chairman of the township council and the local army commander for food, but we got no response from them.”

In fact, rather than tackling the crisis, the military is compounding it. Since the junta took power in Burma in 1962, the Chin have suffered violent oppression at the hands of the army. The use of unpaid forced labour, forced substitution of staple crops for cash crops and arbitrary taxation is rife. A report last year by the Women’s League of Chinland accused the army of systematic sexual violence against Chin women.

“Every month we receive a letter ordering us to attend a meeting at the local army camp,” said one village head. “At the meetings they demand work from us and force us to send villagers to construct their barracks. Worst of all they order us to send them food, like chickens, cooking oil and chillies, but since we don’t have any we have to collect money from villagers to send in its place.

“Last month, I failed to attend the meeting, because I was too busy collecting rice from India. When I got back to my village I found an envelope with a bullet in it. I was terrified. I thought they were going to come and kill me.”

Cheery Zahau of the Women’s League of Chinland said: “The maudam has affected India and Burma equally, but the Indian government has been preparing for it since 2002. For example, they pay their citizens for every rat they catch. The Burmese junta has done nothing. It’s not just that they don’t care. In my opinion, they are deliberately ignoring the disaster because they want the region to be cleansed of Chin people. Chin groups in the border region have been trying to mobilise aid, but our resources are very limited. We desperately need international assistance.”

While the Chin await aid, the exodus to India continues. “We love our native land,” said one villager. “But we don’t know how we can survive here any longer.”

August 11, 2008

www.pwrdf.org

Since 2006, Chin State of Burma (also known as Myanmar), bordering the Mizoram state of India, has been plagued by a severe food crisis. The year 2006 marked the beginning of a new cycle of bamboo flowering, which occurs about every 50 years in the region. It triggered the explosion in the population of rats resulting in the subsequent destruction of crops. This has caused a severe shortage of food for local communities primarily dependent on subsistence farming through shifting cultivation. The phenomenon has occurred three times since 1862, and each occurrence has ended in catastrophic famine for communities in the area.

Based on the latest field surveys conducted in the affected areas, Chin Human Rights Organization estimates that as many as 200 villages have been directly affected by this severe food shortage associated with the bamboo flowering and no less than 100, 000 people or 20 percent of the entire population of Chin State may be in need of immediate food aid. Food scarcity is more severe in remote areas where families are being reduced to one meal a day or have nothing at all left to eat. The humanitarian consequences stemming from the dying bamboo and exacerbated by conditions imposed by the military regime, such as forced labour and the confiscation of farmland for cash crops such as tea and Jatropha for biofuel, are enormous, and there are clear indications that unless urgent action is taken to address the crisis, the situation could soon turn into a large-scale catastrophe affecting all parts of Chin State.

PWRDF has approved a grant of $15,000 in response to this crisis. The Chin Human Rights Organization in partnership with the local Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee is assisting 700 families from 20 different villages in Chin State with food relief, mainly rice, that will help sustain them for a month.

Rampaging Rats Bring Starvation to Burma

By Bernadette Carroll
September 26, 2008
BBC News, Chin state, Burma ( http://news. bbc.co.uk/ 2/hi/asia- pacific/7633986. stm )

Rats destroy subsistence crops in Burma’s Chin State

In Burma’s north-west Chin state, thousands of people say they are starving. The Mara tribe say hundreds of their community have died in the past two months alone.

Local human rights groups say of an estimated 500,000 population, 100,000 people are at crisis point.

They blame a natural phenomenon, which occurs every 50 years in the region – a plague of rats.

The last time it happened – in the late 1950s – an estimated 15,000 people died from famine.

Across the border, India has implemented emergency measures to deal with the threat, but Burma’s military government has been silent on the matter.

Bamboo flowers

The United Nations World Food Programme has conducted an assessment in the region.

In an email earlier this year to a Burmese non-governmental organisation, the WFP’s country director for Burma, Chris Kaye, concluded that “people are not dying of starvation” and that the “distribution of WFP relief food would be inappropriate”.

It is a response which inspired over 50 people from the Mara tribe to walk for days through thick, mountainous jungle to meet me at a secret location on the India-Burma borderlands.

They say that the WFP’s assessment did not include southern Chin where they live and that if the international community fails to take them into account, their tribe may not survive.

They all tell the same story of how, when the bamboo flowers, it causes a plague of rats.

When the rats have finished gorging on the bamboo fruits, they go on to devour farm crops, which provide the main form of income for the Mara people.

“You can track the movement of the rats,” one man said. “Overnight the whole mountain range can be destroyed.”

Another told me how he had tried to fend off the rats by building rat traps all around his field of maize.

“More than 100, but it’s meaningless, I cannot protect the farm,” he said.

Painfully thin

The nearest hospital is miles away through mountainous jungle. All the villagers I met were painfully thin.

Dr Sasa is a local from southern Chin state and a medical student in his final year of studies in Armenia.

Before the food shortages took hold, villagers gave their livestock to pay for his training so that he could return and be their doctor.

Villagers say the Burmese government is doing nothing to help
He was not due back until he finished his studies but when he heard the WFP had dismissed claims of a famine, he set up mobile clinics in the borderlands.

In the two months he has been back in the region, he says he has delivered dozens of dead babies and seen over 200 people starve to death.

“Many of them die of malnutrition,” he says.

“Our whole body needs to be filled with food, which builds our immunity against disease. When you are malnourished, disease comes to you and you have no ability to resist.”

Government inaction

Dr Sasa and the villagers all say that the WFP’s assessment did not include them.

That view is shared by the chief minister of Mizoram state in neighbouring India, Pu Zoramthanga. Mizoram is also affected by the bamboo flowering.

“Those visitors went to the accessible areas. There will be no famine there,” says the minister. “If they had visited the area near the border with Mizoram, certainly people are suffering. They have to go back and see.”

He says if protective measures had been put in place by the Burmese government, the famine would not be happening now.

“The government of India sent a good amount of money for advance preparation to combat this – to make storage of rice and instead let us grow cash crops like ginger and turmeric, which the rats won’t eat,” the minister adds.

“With this we combat the bamboo flowering and famine.”

The villagers I have met all tell me that the Burmese government is doing nothing to help. If anything, they say, the government is making the situation worse.

They say that the military – which has increased its presence in Chin state – taxes them, takes their possessions including their livestock, and forces them to work without pay as labourers or porters.

One pastor told me he advised his parishioners to do whatever the military asked of them.

“We ask God to endure this suffering,” he says.

When I asked him how it would help, he referred to the Bible.

“If someone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other, we taught like that. Is this right? I don’t know,” he asks.

Super Rats Invade; Blamed for Myanmar Famine
As Thousands Starve, Officials Seize Food Aid, Relief Groups Say

By KYLIE SOBEL
ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/Story?id=6039724&page=1)
October 16, 2008

A rat infestation so severe that an estimated 100,000 people are on the brink of starvation is devastating the Chin State in Western Burma, and the nation’s government is doing nothing to help its people, according to activists fighting for aid.

The region is currently suffering from “maudam,” a phenomenon that occurs about once every 50 years, in which flowering bamboo trees produce a fruit that nourishes the rat population. The last time it struck was in 1958, with other occurrences in 1911 and 1862.

Human right organizations on the ground say as many as 100 children and elderly have already died from malnutrition as the rats ravage the community’s crops. While this infestation started as a natural disaster, it is being met by gross neglect by the nation’s leaders, according to the rights groups.

“The famine is little known, poorly dealt with, and ignored by the government,” said Salai Bawi Lian (Executive Director) of the Chin Human Rights Organization, which is based in Canada.

“In this area, people have been suffering, dying, no people know about it,” Lian said of the Chin region, which he described at the most isolated jungle area in the country.

Instead of cannibalizing their young for food, as these rats normally do, the bamboo fruit provides the rats with the means to multiply by the millions. And when there is no fruit left, the plague of hungry rats decimate rice and corn crops in Western Myanmar so much so that an estimated 200 villages of an estimated 100,000 Chin people are now without food.

“Rats are everywhere, everywhere,” Victor Biak Lian, of the Chin Human Rights organization who recently visited the region. “What I see is starvation.”

And while the rat problem is explosive, the rights groups say that what is even more horrific is the way in which the Myanmar government has responded: by doing nothing. Burma is not the only nation plagued by this phenomenon, but aid workers say it is the only one where no action is being taken by its government. The bamboo flower-fuelled disaster has also hit India, but the government there formed alliances with NGOs and prepared for the crisis.

According to a report by activist Edith Mirante for the NGO Project Maje, India has responded by paying Indian citizens for every rat caught in regional villages, building rat-proof granaries, and building roads and helipads to access outlying villages so that food aid can be provided to needy citizens.

And although the Indian government and NGOs are providing food aid for the affected region there – the Bangladeshi government has also received food aid and support from the United Nations World Food Program for its maudam problem – activists say no such relief is being provided to the Chin people by the Burmese government.

Aid that does make it to the Chin is, for the most part, coming in the form of 60-pound bags of donated rice from Western Christian groups. And even that is reportedly endangered.

Myanmar Officials Seizing Food Aid, Say Officials

The Chin Human Rights Organization reports that more than 450 bags of rice donated as food aid by the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of the Province of Myanmar in April were confiscated by the Burmese government. The group says this rice was then sold at an overpriced rate so that the local authorities could make a profit.

“We have to be very careful when dealing with the government in Myanmar,” said Paul Risley, a spokesperson for the Asian division of U.N. World Food Program. “They are almost as bad as the government in North Korea, with a bunch of old generals sitting high in their newly built capital.”

The U.N. has recently sent international staff to Chin State, but Risley said aid agencies in the affected areas have to be careful not just to provide food for needy villages, which could lead to those villages being overwhelmed by hungry villagers from other areas. Instead, the U.N. has proposed a work-for-food program in which Chin farmers and villages will jointly work on community projects — like building roads and schools — in exchange for bags of rice.

“As long as we are taking care of the food problem that the generals of the Myanmar government would otherwise have to deal with themselves, we are fairly confident we can do this,” Risley continued, saying that the government could end up constraining relief efforts. The U.N. is currently asking the U.S. and other countries to provide funding and support for the Chin.

The Chin Human Rights Organization and the U.S. Campaign for Burma believe at least $1 million is needed for immediate assistance.

Experts estimate that the maudam will last between two and five years, and relief organizations say that a sustained relief effort will be needed to address a devastated Chin society.

The Chin people are an ethnic minority in Burma – one of the many minorities that the Burmese government mistreats, according to human rights activists. To make matters worse, says Jeremy Woodrum of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, the Chin people are also Christians, forming a religious minority in the nation that the Myanmar government reportedly often abuses.

“The Burmese government is among the most brutal in the world, with twice as many mistreated villages than are in Darfur and the Sudan,” said Woodrum. “Having a natural disaster wipe out the Chin people, a detested ethnic and religious minority, serves the Burmese regime’s interest.”

The Burmese government did not return phone calls from ABC News.

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