Volume XI, No V. September – October 2008
Chin Human Rights Organization
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS IN CHINLAND
• Villagers Punished for Failing to Comply with Forced Labour Order
• Unfair Restrictions on Ferry Operators Cause Price Hike
• Chin Widow Taxed 30, 000 for Owning Two Cows
• Soldiers on Killing Spree of Livestock for Meat
• Villagers Flee to India as Burma Army Rages
• Farmers Compelled to Buy Govt-Produced Fertilizer
• Villagers Forced to Supply Porters and Chickens
FOOD CRISIS IN CHINLAND
• Severe Food Shortages Blamed for Sharp School Dropout
• Discriminatory Practice in Aid Distribution
• Forced Labour Exacted from Areas Hard Hit by Food Scarcity
• Food Crisis Puts Mothers and Children at Risk
• Chin People Brace for Famine-Related Diseases
• ENC Calls for Immediate Action to Address Food Crisis
• DFID Hailed for its Response to Food Crisis in Chin State
• Burma’s Regime Slammed for Neglecting Food Crisis in Chin State
• Local Relief Group Raised Funds for Famine Victims
NEWS AND EVENTS
• Deportation Feared for a Chin Refugee in Malaysia
• Joint Cross-Border Effort Planned for Victims of Hunger in Chin State
• Mizoram University Host International Seminar on Chin History
• Chin Scholar Urged to Look Back into the Past
• Demonstration to Mark Suu Kyi’s 13 Years in Detention
• Making Burma ungovernable
BACK COVER POEM
• Saffron Revolution
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATIONS IN CHINLAND
Villagers Punished for Failing to Comply with Forced Labour Order
Three villages in Paletwa Township of Southern Chin State who are already dealing with acute shortages of food were fined thousands of Kyats for failing to comply with a forced labour order, a local villager reported to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Captain Khin Zaw from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 538 forced civilians from nine village tracts in southern Chin State to construct an army camp at Shinletwa village. The affected villages were Pathiantlang, Sin Oo Wa, Shweletwa, Ma Oo, Sha Oo, Para, Ma Oo, Paungmu, Kupi.
The work lasted from July 13 to 19, 2008 but Para, Pathiantlang and Sha Oo could not contribute labourers for the camp construction. Each village was ordered a fine of 80, 000 Kyats each for failing to show up for the construction. A total of seven barracks were completed during a week-long work at the camp.
Unfair Restrictions on Ferry Operators Cause Price Hike
Unfair orders by Major Than Zaw Myint from Light Infantry Battalion 289 is causing commodity prices in the southern Chin State to shoot through the roof, and creating further hardships for communities in the area who are already struggling with a major food crisis, according to a local person.
According to Major Than Zaw Myint’s order, ferry owners can now only operate once in every 40 days up the Kaladan river, obstructing the movement of goods and commodities for communities living on the edges of the Kaladan river. Moreover, the army officer is requisitioning at least two ferries at all times for use by the army. The ferry owners are responsible for diesel fuel cost during use of their boats by the army.
The local association of ferry owners has approached the Township Peace and Development Council Chairman U Zeya to ask for his intervention to reverse Major Than Zaw Myint’s order, saying it was unfair for them since they already paid up all necessary fees for their operating licenses. So far the Township Chairman had done nothing in the matter.
Chin Widow Extorted 30, 000 Kyats for Owning Two Cows
A widow was the latest victim of extortion by Burmese troops operating in southern Chin State. A troop consisting of 17 soldiers commanded by a Captain from LIB (304), during the last week of July 2008, extorted 30,000 Kyats from a widow in Satu village of Matupi Township for owing two cows, a local person told Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Severe shortages of food due to rat infestation have forced more Chin families to sell their livestock to India’s Mizoram. Burmese troops are now asking 30,000 Kyats for each family owning or selling a cow.
Soldiers on Killing Spree of Livestock for Meat
26 August 2008
Burmese soldiers stationed in southern Chin State have been on animal killing spree, shooting people’s livestock and consuming their meat without paying for them, a resident of Matupi town told Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion (304), commanded by Colonel Zaw Myint Oo have been blamed for much of the killing of domestic animals. According to a Matupi resident, the battalion is responsible for unlawfully killing at least 8 mithuns, 15 pigs and countless number of chickens belonging to the local people in Matupi area.
“Since May of 2008, soldiers from LIB 304 have been deliberately hunting mithuns by shooting and killing them at will by going to the grazing area. They killed them by shooting and laying traps,” a Maputi resident explained.
Owners of the livestock who tried to claim compensation at the office of the Battalion commander were told by Col. Zaw Myint Oo, they would be compensated once the owners paid for the bullets that were used to kill their animals.
Among the people whose mithuns have been killed by the soldiers are U Yahe, U Ram Tang and U Yung Bal, all residents of Matupi town.
Soldiers from LIB 304 were blamed for the killing of more than 15 pigs in the villages of Sabawngpi, Sabawngte, Lumang and Darling just in the month of July, 2008.
Villagers Flee to India as Burma Army Rages
5 October 2008
Dozens of Chin villagers have fled to India to avoid possible arrests by the Burma Army in connection with the death of one of its member whose dead body was found with his gun missing.
On September 23, 2008, a dead body of Corporal Thant Lwin of Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 87 was found in a rice field near Hmawnkawn village on the borders with India. His MA-2 rifle along with 30 rounds of ammunitions were also found missing.
The Burmese army subsequently conducted a widespread search of the area for the missing gun. Nearly 150 villagers in the area were forced to participate in the search from 25 to 27 September. 40 persons from Doih Khen village, 60 persons from Hmawngkawn A & B villages, and another 47 persons from Leilet village were forcibly deployed in the search for the missing gun for three days.
The dead soldier was part of a unit led by Sergeant Wi Sandar based at Tibual village in LIB 87 camp. They were on duty on India-Burma border to extort cross-border traders when Corporal Thant Lwin was killed. Sergeant Wi Sandar was subsequently arrested and interrogated at Hakha Tactical Command Office.
To date, neither the missing gun nor the suspected killer has been found. On September 25, Brigadier General Hung Ngai, the highest ranking military officer in Chin State visited the area and personally saw the place where the soldier body was found. As the army could not find the killer, they turned their attention to villagers in the area, spreading fears and causing many villagers to flee to Mizoram.
Farmers Compelled to Buy Govt-Produced Fertilizer
11 August 2008
The authorities in Sagaing Division are forcing farmers to buy fertilizer in a bid to increase the production of rice in the 2008-2009 cultivating season.
A resolution reached at a joint meeting between the Kalay District and Township Peace and Development Council on 12 June 2008 required farmers to:
1. Produce 100 tins (1 tin consists of appx 20 Kilograms) of rice per acre
2. Buy fertilizer from the government
3. Not grow any other crops but rice in their farms
4. Meet all rules and conditions set by the government
5. Non-compliance would result in punishment under article 31 (1) of the Land Act – offence under the Act could result in seizure of their land and up to six months jail terms
Part of the conditions for farmers includes the purchase and use of fertilizers from the government. Each farmer must purchase 2 bags of fertilizers per one acre of farmland. The price of the fertilizer would be determined and collected from the farmers upon harvest.
Farmers believe that the reason for making mandatory purchase of fertilizer is because the sale of fertilizer has been down for some time.
Villagers Forced to Supply Porters and Chickens
30 September 2008
Lt. Toe Ya and his unit from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 304, on 3 August 2008, demanded five porters and five chickens from Sabawngpi village.
Afraid to disobey the order, U Maung Kyi, the headmen of the village arranged five porters and chickens the following day. The porters transported military equipments and supplies to fifty miles away in Razua Town.
In his previous visit to the village on July 30, 2008, Lt. Toe Ya had assaulted the headman when he discovered that the school building in the village was in disrepair. The assault happen after U Maung Kyi told the army officer the building was in disrepair due to lack of funding from the government.
FOOD CRISIS IN CHINLAND
Severe Food Shortages Blamed for Sharp School Dropout
28 August 2008
Acute shortages of food are being blamed for a high number of dropouts among school children in Matupi Township of southern Chin State. The number of students attending school this year has been sharply reduced by half compared to last year, according to a teacher who teaches at a school in Sabawngte village of Matupi Township.
“Parents can simply no longer afford to send their children to school when there is no food left to eat at home. People have done everything they can to continue surviving by selling every livestock and possession. They have depleted everything they have,” said the unnamed teacher.
Sabawnge village has a government high school with the usual enrolment of at least 400 students. That number has now been reduced to half this academic year due to massive rat infestation and related shortages of food in the entire region.
Discriminatory Practice in Aid Distribution
26 August 2008
Discriminatory practice and favouritism by government officials may be costing thousands of people and households in Thantlang Township their entitlement of aid from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), CHRO source has revealed.
Clerks in the Township Peace and Development Council office who are responsible for identifying and preparing the list of eligible recipients of UNDP assistance are reported to deliberately omit the names of otherwise eligible recipients and include only households that have contributed free labour for government`s projects and parents whose children have already submitted “Physical Activities Fees“ at school.
Among those have been omitted from the eligible list are widows, orphans and religious leaders, CHRO source said.
The UNDP was to distribute 10,000 Kyats in food aid to every household in Thantlang Township in August but the distribution has been delayed due to conflicting lists prepared by the UNDP staff and the Township officials.
The UNDP reportedly arranged urgent aid effort in response to the reported death of over 44 children in Thantlang Township`s Lautu area from diseases and malnutrition since the beginning of the year.
Forced Labour Exacted from Areas Hard Hit by Food Scarcity
22 September 2008
Five civilians have been forced to serve as cooks for the army on a daily basis since the beginning of the year by Burmese troops stationed at Darkhai village of Tonzang Township. The troops belong to Light Infantry Battalion 269, CHRO has learned.
Burmese troops started setting up a new camp in early 2008 at a village of about 100 households. Since then, at least 5 villagers have been forced to serve as cooks for the army on a daily basis. Households serve as domestic help for the army on a rotating basis.
Villagers on cooking duty must forfeit work for their own survival. A daily wage a person could earn in the area is 1000 Kyats. “We don`t have enough time for work for our own survival just because we have to work for the army without pay,“ complained one villager. “We cannot even afford to make a living as it is, the forced labour duty has deepened our hardship,“ he said. “At least two people contract Malaria each month in our village because we cannot afford a mosquito net,“ explained the villager.
Tonzang Township is one of the areas hardest hit by extreme food scarcity since 2007 following massive rat infestation due to the flowering of bamboos.
Food Crisis Puts Mothers and Children At High Risk
Van Biak Thang
11 September, 2008 -Burma’s military-ignored famine has forced thousands of Chin villagers to flee in search of food for survival, leaving especially mothers and children vulnerable to famine-related diseases, sources warned.
Many children have been left malnourished and starved as their breast-feeding mothers do not have enough milk due to hunger and malnutrition.
“All the villagers including my own village are living day-to-day life by eating the jungle banana, yam and anything really. Some villagers eat even bamboo flowers,” Sasa who returned last week from a trip to the Indian-Burma border told Chinland Guardian.
“As a result, many villagers are suffering from all kind of gastro-intestinal disease, particularly indigestive. The water-born disease and respiratory disease are also widespread. This hunger makes their immunity lower, putting all the hungry villagers at high risk,” added a Chin medical student who gave free treatment to famine-hit Chin victims last month.
The villagers including many children who have to drop out of schools to support in fetching rice bags have to travel approximately 4 to 5 days on foot through the jungle to get to the Indian-Burma border where food relief aids can be obtained.
It was the most painful moment, Sasa said, when a pregnant woman finally got, after 5 days’ walk, to the clinic where I had to help out with her dead baby inside the belly due to malnutrition.
Many children have died due to famine-related malnutrition and many more at high risk, according to the recent reports.
Many elder villagers said they would like to commit suicide rather than to see their children crying and dying from hunger, according to Sasa who opened a free clinic at a village near the Indian-Burma border days ago. Sometimes, they would say to me ‘Where has God gone?’ Sasa continued.
This ongoing rat-infested crisis, which has brought food shortages since 2006, has been worsened as the famine-hit villagers are still forced to contribute money and food towards the ration of the SPDC’s soldiers camped in some areas in Chin State.
The devastating famine is reported to have been massively spreading from Southern into Northern areas of Chin State including Falam, Than Tlang and Tiddim townships.
Chin People Braced For Famine-related Diseases
Van Biak Thang
19 September, 2008
Fears for the lives of Chin victims from famine-stricken areas in Burma’s Chin State have mounted after an increasing number of villagers have suffered from various diseases due to the devastating food crisis, sources said.
At least five villages of Thantlang Township including Lungcawite, Lungcawipi, Ngaphaipi, Ngalang and Lailen villages have been seriously hit by famine-related diseases and as many as 50 people from each village are said to be suffering according to Mizzima news.
An outbreak of ‘endemic’ diseases including diarrhoea and dermatoses has been ascribed to the ongoing food crisis due to bamboo-related rat infestation in the region.
At least four villagers have been reported dead and about 30 villages suffering from the famine-related diseases according to reports.
More than 40 children were said to have died in recent months due to the famine-related diseases including malnutrition and diarrhoea.
Famine-hit villagers are said to express their heartfelt thanks to various charity organisations, Chin communities, churches and individuals for their relief aids and supplies.
This ongoing military-neglected food crisis, which started in 2006, has been caused by a plague of crop-destroying rats that multiply in large quantities after eating bamboo flowers. The bamboos blossom once in fifty years.
ENC Calls For Immediate Action To Address Food Crisis In Chin State
Van Biak Thang
30 September, 2008
In its statement on the devastating food crisis in Burma’s Chin State, the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) today expressed concern for the Chin victims, calling for the immediate action to address the ‘military-neglected’ situation.
The statement said the continuing lack of meaningful response to the food crisis is now putting the entire population in western Burma on the brink of starvation and a famine, demanding urgency and decisive actions by the international community.
Dr. Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, Vice Chairman of the Ethnic Nationalities Council said: “The food crisis in Chin State has reached a point where immediate action is warranted in order to prevent a human tragedy of great proportions. The international community should now act immediately on this crisis to avert a Nargis-like situation.”
More than 2000 civilians have been since late 2006 forced to flee to India and dozens of deaths reported in connection with malnutrition and infectious diseases including diarrhoea and malaria, the statement claimed. More than 100, 000 people from over 200 villages in Chin State are now facing hunger and starvation, according to a recent report by CHRO (Chin Human Rights Organisation).
Concerned about the deterioration of humanitarian conditions in the Union of Burma, ENC has on several occasions made clear its position in support of direct international humanitarian aid efforts in the most affected areas.
The ENC called on SPDC to act immediately, to allow complete and unfettered international aid access to the affected areas, and cooperate fully with aid organisations as well as provide them a conducive environment for meaningful and effective relief efforts in Chin State.
The statement by the Ethnic Nationalities Council urged the UN agencies including WFP, UN OCHA and UNDP, and international aid organisations to immediately engage in providing emergency food relief assistance in collaboration with local Chin organisations and churches. It extended an appeal to the government of India and Mizoram for further assistance to avert a humanitarian tragedy in Burma’s Chin State.
The Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) was originally established as the “Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Cooperation Committee” (ENSCC) in August 2001. It was entrusted with the task of fostering unity and cooperation between all ethnic nationalities in preparation for a ‘Tripartite Dialogue” and a transition to democracy.
DFID Hailed For Its Response To Food Crisis In Chin State
Van Biak Thang
06 October, 2008
Chin communities, churches and individuals across the globe welcomed DFID’s ‘philanthropic’ responses to the devastating food crisis that has been facing the Chin people in Burma’s Chin State since late 2006.
The Department for International Development (DFID), part of the UK Government that manages Britain’s aid to poor countries and works to get rid of extreme poverty, has provided an estimated 1 million US dollars in financial support through NGOs including UNDP, CAD and WFP, sources confirmed.
“We are very happy to hear about DFID’s generous support in response to the ongoing food crisis in Chin State, and that WFP has now accepted the situation and is also taking steps in the food relief collaboration,” a prominent Chin political figure Victor Biak Lian of Chin Human Rights Organisation told Chinland Guardian.
The programme will initiate to focus on giving food relief to six of the most affected tonwnships such as Matupi, Paletwa, Tonzang, Tiddim, Hakha and Thantlang for the first three months starting from October.
The overall objective of this project is to improve the food security situation of farmers and their family members, affected by rat infestation and crop destruction, as well to enhance rural transportation and communication systems, according to Rangon-based CAD (Country Agency for Rural Development).
In an effort to bring about a long-term solution, another programme called Food Plus Cash For Work (FCFW) is to be formed, aiming to facilitate road construction and tiered farming in Tiddim, Tonzang, Hakha and Thantlang townships.
A Chin delegation comprising Victor Biak Lian, Cheery Zahau and Sasa met Deputy Director of DFID in London during their visit in June this year, raising awareness and fund for the famine victims in Chin State, Burma.
Burma’s Regime Slammed for Neglecting Food Crisis in Chin State
Van Biak Thang
19 October, 2008
The rights groups and activists fighting for relief aid have severely criticised the SPDC for ‘doing nothing’ to help its people who are facing a devastating famine in Chin State of Western Burma, according to the ABC News on Thursday.
The ‘military-ignored’ spreading food crisis caused by a rat infestation has put an estimated 100,000 people on the brink of starvation and about 100 children and elderly have died from malnutrition and famine-related diseases, according to reports by human rights organisations and relief aid groups.
Salai Bawi Lian Mang of Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation told the ABC News that the famine is little known, poorly dealt with, and ignored by the government and that people have been suffering, dying in the Chin region, the most isolated jungle area in the country but no one knows about it.
The local SPDC authorities have been condemned for ‘seizing and selling’ food aids to make money for their own profits while a spokesperson for the Asian Division of U.N World Food Program, Paul Risley said care should be taken when dealing with the Myanmar government with a bunch of old generals sitting high in their newly built capital, Naypyidaw.
The Chin communities and relief aid groups welcomed the WFP for accepting the existence of famine in Chin State although its report earlier this year concluded there was no famine.
The UN proposed a work-for-food program where Chin farmers and villages will jointly work on community projects such as building roads and schools in exchange for bags of rice, according to Paul Risley who added: “we are fairly confident we can do this.”
HART, a UK-based aid and advocacy charity that travelled to the famine-affected areas in Chin State from the Indian-Burma border in August and September, said that there is an inevitable delay before the affected people can be reached from within the country. HART, engaged with local Chin organisations and famine relief committees on the border, makes a time-limited appeal to the end of October in order that the major organisations will be able to carry out their responsibilities effectively.
Similar devastating rat-infestation has hit India and Bangladesh but the governments of both countries have prepared in advance and responded to the situation as this predictable phenomenon in which bamboos flower and produce fruits, causing the population of rats accelerates upon consumption, occurs about once every 50 years.
It is estimated that the rat-infested famine, which started in late 2006, will last between two and five years.
One of the ethnic nationalities in Burma, the Chin people, mostly Christians, have long suffered from mistreats, abuses, oppression and persecutions inflicted upon by the military regime, one of the most brutal in the world.
Local Relief Group Raised Funds for Famine Victims
Van Biak Thang
28 October, 2008
A concert to raise awareness and fund from among the local people for famine-stricken Chin victims was organised in Thantlang town on 19 October 2008 as many locals from unaffected areas have not been well informed of the ongoing famine.
The 2600-odd strong audience attended the event which was arranged by Mautam Relief Programme (MRP). The programme, which has done fact-finding trips to Thantlang townships and Kalay-Khampat region, is set to coordinate with other relief teams in areas including Falam and Tiddim townships as well as Southern Chin State, according to the President of MRP.
We didn’t make the ticket for the concert but the concert-goers contributed as much as they could, ranging from 5 to 1,000 Kyat as an entrance fee and the proceeds would be used for buying and contributing rice to the most famine-affected villages, said the MRP member.
The concert was voluntarily entertained by a local band named S2 and singers including Dawt Hlei Hniang, Bil Sung, Ni Hlei Sung, Zung Iang, Sui Tha, Sui Hniang, Sui Hnim, Tha Lian Bawi and Cung Lian Thawng.
MRP is set to have another fundraising concert in Hakha, the capital of Chin State next month, teaming up with a music group called Lai Par En in commemoration of its 20th anniversary.
The ongoing famine, which started in late 2006 in the bamboo-forested Southern Chin State along the Indian-Burma border, has spread northward, affecting Falam, Tiddim, Thantlang townships and Kalay-Khampat areas.
MRP was established on 9 September 2008 in response to the devastating rat-infested famine, locally known as Mautam. The programme was firstly engaged in raising awareness among the local people in the Northern part, making survey and collecting data in the newly affected areas.
NEWS & EVENTS
Deportation Feared for a Chin Refugee in Malaysia
Van Biak Thang
28 September 2008
Fears for the safety of a Chin refugee currently being held in Malaysia’s Pokok Sena Jail rise after a decision to deport him into Thailand in December 2008 has been announced by Malaysian authorities, his inmate recently released said.
Mr. Thawng Hu, who was arrested and detained in February 2008 by Rela Corps while his wife was pregnant, has reportedly suffered four times from ‘inhumane’ acts of caning as a form of punishment.
“After being registered as a refugee and giving birth to a baby in May, his wife keeps trying to talk to the UNHCR for assistance in helping out her husband. But nothing has been achieved yet until today,” Salai Chan Duh Ceu, one of Chin Refugee Committee members told Chinland Guardian.
Since his arrest earlier this year, his wife, Dar Vang, and her newly born baby have been looked after by Mr. Thang Hu’s friends, who are also refugees in Malaysia. “Now that her husband’s friends and their families are going to the US by the end of this month, there have been worries and concerns as to who will take care of them,” added a volunteer CRC member.
Meanwhile, an accident which claimed a life of another Chin refugee, Mr. Hram Er, 47, was reported last Wednesday. A father of four, three daughters and a son, was around lunchtime found unconscious and bleeding from his head near the lift of a construction site where he worked. As of today, the cause of his death has not been known yet.
There are more than 30,000 Chin refugees, both unregistered and registered with the UN refugee agency in Malaysia. Refugees and asylum seekers are vulnerable to extortion, theft, sexual abuse, arrest, deportation, and many other difficulties, according to a report by Chin Human Rights Organisation.
Rela Corps, a civil volunteer corps formed by the Malaysian government, has been slammed as being “corrupt and responsible” for numerous cases of illegal detentions, unlawful use of force and extortion.
Joint Cross-Border Effort Planned for Victims of Hunger in Chin State
12 October, 2008
Aizawl, India: A meeting of Chin groups yesterday agreed on launching a coordinated cross-border relief program from Mizoram to provide emergency food relief to thousands of people in Chin State who are facing a major food crisis.
The meeting was held in Aizawl, Mizoram and attended by representatives from Chin Famine Emergency Relief Committee (CFERC), Chin Humanitarian Relief Committee (CHRC), Public Affairs Committee (PAC), Women League of Chinland (WLC), Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and the Burma Relief Center (BRC).
The purpose of the meeting was to find ways to more effectively carry out cross-border relief programs through a joint and coordinated relief efforts inside Chin State from Northeast India to help thousands of hunger victims in western Burma. The different groups reported on the progress of their efforts and agreed to lauch a coordinated relief programs together.
Reports of the meeting show that cross-border emergency food relief has been provided to 76 villages so far from Mizoram. This number accounts for only a third of the villages that are believed to be facing severe food shortages, according to a report by Chin Human Rights Organization.
“There is a continuing need for relief provision. The amount of food provided to these villages is only enough to last them for less than a month. And the food aid has not even reached the majority of people,” explains one participant of the meeting who has been involved in the cross-border relief program.
Since late 2006, a massive rat infestation due to a cyclical flowering of bamboo, exacerbated by repressive policies of Burma’s military junta has caused massive shortage of food in Chin State. The crisis has forced more than 2000 people to flee across the border into India and is blamed for dozens of deaths associated with malnutrition and hunger.
Mizoram University Host International Seminar on Chin History
Van Biak Thang
14 October, 2008
An international seminar on ‘exploring the history, culture and identity of the Chin people’ which kicked off last Monday is held at Chaltlang Tourist Lodge in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram State, India.
The three-day seminar organised by Mizoram University has presentations and discussions on the Chins by Kuki-Chin historians. The event, initiated by Chin National Council, is sponsored by Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office.
Professor A.N. Rai, Vice Chancellor of Mizoram University, inaugurated the programme which was followed by a lively and beautiful welcoming song from students of History Department. An introductory speech was given by Coordinator of the seminar, Dr. K. Robin of History Department and keynote address by Professor J.L. Dawar.
Euro-Burma Office Research Director and Chairman of Chin National Council, Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong, gave a speech on behalf of Euro-Burma Office (EBO) and Salai Kipp Kho Lian, Chin Forum Coordinator, spoke on behalf of Chin National Council.
Dr. Lalngurliana of Mizoram University proposed a vote of thanks to Mr. Harn Yawnghwe, Director of Euro-Burma Office for supporting financially to make this auspicious seminar possible where both the attendees and organising committee members alike delight in the historic occasion.
More than 150 scholars on Kuki-Chins from across the world came to attend this important seminar with a total of 36 scholarly papers on Chin identity, according to the organising committees.
The first day of the seminar saw presentations from 16 scholars including Professor Dr.T.T. Haokip of North-Eastern Hill University, Professor Laltluangliana Khiangte of Mizoram University, Professor George Bedell of Payap University, Professor Lehman of Illinois University and Chin history scholar Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong.
It is said that Mizoram University will publish all the papers presented at the seminar in a book form.
Speaking in both Chin and English at the opening ceremony of the seminar, Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong said: “It is such a privilege to have a seminar like this on Chin history and culture, well organised by Mizoram University in our capital city, Aizawl. Your [the audience] presence recognise our name, our culture and our identity.”
Salai Kipp Kho Lian, Secretary of the first Chin Forum Magazine distributed at the seminar, said: “I believe that in the near future when we could successfully agree on a new federal constitution for the Union of Burma, the Chin people on both sides of the Indo-Burma border line will be of great help to India and play a vital role in helping her implement the Look East policy in many ways.”
The first day of vibrant and magnificent moments with scholarly presentations and discussions was ended at 5 pm with a dinner party thrown by Professor A.N. Rai, Vice Chancellor of Mizoram University.
The first session of the second day that started at 9:30 am was chaired by Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong and the second session from 12 noon to 2 pm by Professor Dr. Lehman. The last session continued with Dr. Sangkima as a chairperson.
This is the third time the international Chin seminar is held. The first one named ‘Chin-Lushai Conference’ was said to be done with no Chin participants in Calcutta, India in 1892 by the British and the second with only Chin participants in Ottawa, Canada in 1998. The seminar this year has been hailed as the most comprehensive as it includes not only the Chin people but also scholars with knowledge and experiences on Chin history and culture from various countries including USA, Canada, Thailand, India, Burma and Europe.
Chin Scholar Urged to Look Back into the Past
Van Biak Thang
16 October, 2008
A well-known Chin scholar Dr. Lian Hmung Sakhong made a presentation on ‘the origin of the Chin’ at the international Chin seminar, calling to look back together into the past in order to see the origin of the Chin. The seminar was held in Aizawl, Mizoram State for three days on 13-15 October.
In a historic conference with more than 150 scholars attending from across the globe, Dr. Sakhong said that he was standing there as an activist and historian, adding: “As a historian, I am engaging a dialogue between the past and the present, and when I look the future, I look backward. I first look backwards in order to look towards the future.”
“As an activist, I am currently engaging dialogue between the present and the future. But an activist approach is quite opposite to a historian: we first look towards the future in order to look backwards into the past,” continued the author of a widely acclaimed book ‘In Search of Chin Identity: A Study in Religion, Politics and Ethnic Identity in Burma’.
Speaking about a series of historical workshops conducted for the ethnic groups in Burma, Dr. Sakhong, the current Vice-Chairman and former General Secretary of Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) highlighted the purpose as ‘knowing the past and understanding the present’.
The Arakan Historical Workshop was done in 2006 and the Mon in 2007 which was followed by the Chin this year. The Shan historical workshop will be done next year in Shih-song-pana in Yunan Province of China.
His message included the importance of challenging the notions of ‘self-determination’ and ‘nation-state’ in the course of writing history by people, both low and high, after admitting the Chins have very little knowledge about their own history between 1896 and 1948, and also after 1948. The right of self-determination should not be narrowly interpreted as a sovereign nation-state but is the good part of federal system that we are advocating for the future of Burma, according to his paper presentation.
“As a people, and as a Chin, we don’t want to remain forever a child. And that’s the reason why we want to re-organize our past memory in order to preserve, protect and promote our identity, our culture and our ways of life so that we would be able to create a vibrant and admirable future for the next generations to come,” said Dr. Sakhong, winner of the 2007 Martin Luther King Prize.
Blaming the international boundaries for dividing us today as Indian, Burmese and Bangladeshi citizens with different Standard Times practiced in each country, and slight differences in the suffix of our names, Dr. Sakhong said this is part of the destruction of primordial identity that bound us as a distinctive ethnic group with clearly defined territory of homeland before.
The seminar was sponsored by Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office and organised by Mizoram University. This is the third time the international Chin seminar has been held with the first in 1892 and the second in 1998.
A prolific Chin writer on Chin history, traditions and politics in Burma, Dr. Lian H. Sakhong said: “In order to reclaim our identity and declare that we are brothers and sisters from the same ancestors, who proclaimed this land as our homeland by their lives and their destiny, we have to look back our past and ask the question of ‘Why’ very boldly. Asking the question of ‘Why’ in history is very much related with the question of change and continuity.”
“It is this process of change that influences our day-to-day behaviour, thereby our ways of life and our thought pattern, which eventually creates our new identity. Through change, we created socially constructed identity but continuity allowed us to preserve our primordial identity. If change occurred on constant basis and if we didn’t realize what happened to us, then we wouldn’t be able to freeze the reality, and then we all would become the strangers in the midst of our brothers and sisters.”
All the scholars’ papers and documents presented at the seminar will be published as a collection in a book form, according to the organising committee.
Demonstration to Mark Suu Kyi’s 13 Years in Detention
Van Biak Thang
17 October, 2008
A coalition of campaigners and activists in the UK is to stage a demonstration as part of a global protest on 24 October, signalling a total of 13 years that Aung San Suu Kyi, 62, has been detained by Burma’s brutal military regime. The protest will take place in front of the Chinese Embassy in London, UK
The day coincides with the Seventh Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in China, which will be attended by leaders of Asian and European countries.
The campaign will call on the leaders of ASEM to team up and back UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in securing the release of all political prisoners when he visits Burma in December.
A giant key with the names and pictures of Burma’s 2,120 political prisoners on it will be handed in to the Chinese Embassy by 13 people wearing Aung San Suu Kyi face masks. It symbolises ‘the key to freedom’ that world leaders hold should they work together to pressure the regime.
Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK, said: “We have never had European and Asian government joining forces to directly pressure the regime to release prisoners. For too long the UN has fallen for the lies of the regime. Thirty-seven visits by UN envoys have secured not a single reform. It is time the UN set timelines and benchmarks for change. The release of political prisoners should be the minimum benchmark for progress that Ban Ki-moon aims for in December.”
The number of political prisoners in Burma has increased over the past year amid calls for their immediate release from the United Nations Security Council. No one can be held for more than five years without being put on trial according to Burmese laws, lawyers representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s family said.
Recently, sources said that pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi made an appeal to Burma’s ruling junta against her detention, which was extended one year in May this year. Her detention, which is renewed periodically, has been criticised of being ‘illegal’ under international law by the UN.
Burma’s ruthless military regime will have detained the Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in her home for 13 of the last 18 years on Friday, 24 October with her latest house arrest in 2003.
OPINION & COMMENTARY
Making Burma Ungovernable
By Salai Za Ceu Lian
21 October, 2008
The prospect of Burma transforming into a democratic state from the totalitarian rule seems to be diminishing as the junta gear up their effort to implement their own seven-step road-map to the so-called ‘disciplined democracy’. The fact that the regime is hell-bent on its own road-map is clearly indicative of the considerable weakness of the democratic opposition of Burma as a whole. For the last 18 years since Burma ‘s 1990 general election, the military junta shows no real sign of flexibility and willingness to find a negotiated settlement of the country’s long crisis with the democratic opposition. As long as the regime sees no potential threat to their power from the opposition, no one should be under any illusion that the military regime will actually hand over power or make a concerted effort to compromise.
It should always be noted that the junta leadership will try to cling to power at all costs. That is a given. While safeguarding themselves from opposition forces, the regime will neither initiate nor support a genuine democratic reform effort unless their power is threatened. Only if there is enormous and irresistible pressure, will the repressive regime be open to negotiating with the democratic opposition. The sad truth is that a transition to democracy for an authoritarian country does not come without cost and enormous sacrifice. Drawing lessons from countries going through such transitions, the first step towards democracy often begins with a crisis caused by the authoritarian regime which degenerates into a peoples’ uprising, followed by mass riots, and a nation-wide protest against the ruling government which eventually leads dictators in power to step down. We have had more than our fair share of such crises and uprisings in Burma , yet the regime continuously consolidates its power. It’s become clear that without concerted and persistent efforts to resist and discredit the military junta – especially from the inside – the people’s demand of democratic reform seems impossible.
Take the case of South Africa , where the xenophobic “national party” governed the country from 1948 to 1994. Despite the apartheid regime’s oppression of the opposition, the democratic movement relentlessly tried to create a crisis with the goal of making the country ungovernable. In time, the democratic movement propelled the government to negotiate with the opposition. Even when the main opposition force – the African National Congress – was banned, the opposition managed to organize a dramatic series of events, including the student uprising in 1976; an anti-apartheid campaign that ground down the South African economy; and most importantly, the continued effort of the United Democratic Front (UDF) which tried to destabilize the country into chaos in order to achieve their goal of “making South Africa “ungovernable, ” as their slogan stated. To crack down on the UDF-led “people’s power” opposition movement to make South Africa ungovernable, the apartheid regime under the leadership of P.W. Botha employed different military strategies. However, the Botha apartheid regime’s heavy-handed military strategy failed as the opposition movement grew stronger and stronger.
Having seen the failure of Botha’s oppressive military strategy in trying to contain and eliminate the campaign of ungovernablity, the successive leader, F.W de Klerk, had no choice but to install a legitimate government by sharing power with the opposition leaders when he took office in 1989. With that power-sharing negotiation, we saw the eventual success of democratic movement in 1994. In retrospect, the success of the democratic movement in South Africa could not have been possible without the persistent and courageous efforts of the United Democratic Front, the front that led South African peoples of all walks of life to join their movement against the oppressive apartheid regime. Note that the UDF nation-wide movement was initiated and led by Prominent leaders of the UDF such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Alan Boesak to name a few, while African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
The South African example demonstrates that democratic forces can be effective despite the fact that an authoritarian regime will do whatever it can to stay in power even to the extent that it will employ military forces to suppress the opposition. In the case of South Africa , democratic forces of South Africa were not only within the country, but also in exile. Locals and expatriots both employed a variety of means to discredit the apartheid regime. In 1994, their efforts forced an end to the country’s four-decade long apartheid regime.
When this lesson is applied to Burma , no one would dispute the fact that Burmese citizens from all walks of life have done their part in protest of the repressive military regime. Sadly, thousands of peaceful demonstrators have already died in cold blood. So far, all the sacrifices that they made for our country have not resulted in the just cause they were fighting for. Again and again, sporadic and occasional uprisings against the Burmese military junta have proven that a genuine democratic reform is unachievable without the persistent and co-ordinated effort of a nation-wide people’s movement
While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is crippled the same way Nelson Mandela once was, it is unfortunate that the other main opposition leaders in Burma today (unlike leaders of the United Democratic Front in South Africa) cannot provide overall strategic and organizational leadership. For the last 18 years since 1990, the main opposition leaders inside Burma – most MPs elected in 1990 – are doing nothing more effective than issuing statements. One can’t help but wonder, is that what they were elected for? When the people of Burma gave them a mandate to govern in 1990, they did so in fully believing that those elected representatives would responsibly and courageously stand up to serve the national interest of the country and protect them against the authoritarian rules of the military dictatorship. It is unfortunate that none of their expectations have been met. Given that the opposition leadership has been thrown into total disarray at this point in our history, it is unimaginable that Burma will have competent and dedicated opposition leadership equivalent that of the United Democratic Front Movement. That said, we must now strive to ‘make Burma ungovernable’ untill the junta is forced to cede to the demands of the people and reinstall civilian rule.
The task is ours for the taking. While Daw Suu and some political figures are under house arrest and in jail, it is paramount that those who have been elected in 1990 take charge of leading the movement, particularly people’s power movement. They must do so by relentlessly organizing a persistent nation-wide peoples’ movement by instigating civil disobedience against the military regime. As a grand strategy, when leading the opposition movement, they should be offensive rather than defensive and pro-active rather than reactive in discrediting the illegitimate rulers. More aggressively than ever before, it is necessary that the democratic opposition should devote resources, both human and material, towards strengthening the movement inside Burma . The fight for democracy in Burma must be vigorously carried on not just because it is possible, but because it is necessary.
BACK COVER POEM
By Van Biak Thang
20 September 2008
A volcanic rupture of the peoples’ desire
Extruding from Burma’s deeply rooted magma
Monk-led eruption with ash cloud of vision
For a country poisoned and sundered by SPDC
The lava of people, peaceful and harmless, flows
Along the conduits throughout the country
Layers of monks, civilians and students
Flanked and united for freedom and liberty
A barbaric junta of Ne Win, the late sire
Shooting to kill its innocent citizens, ala!
Military-led coup with some well-fed captains
For their own greed against the peoples’ need
Sweat in the heat and blood on the streets
With litters, odd flip-flops and dead bodies
Those grim days of 2007 in September’s rain
When the SPDC’s soldiers cracked the mantle
The vents and craters left on Burma’s crust
No more hidden from the world’s eyes at last
Maroon-robed monks convected the hotspot yet
From a vitiated Burma to be healed and set