Rhododendron publication – 2002 Jan-Feb

Rhododendron publication – 2002 Jan-Feb

2002 Jan-Feb 2002 Jan-Feb : Rhododendron publication




Human Rights


* Burmese soldiers arrested a dying elderly woman


* Burma’s junta arrested a Chin professor


* Petition to the Government of Myanmar


* Minority Chin Christian Continue to face Religious Discrimination in Burma


Real Life Story


* Tortured voice : A Chin woman political prisoner speaks out


Scholar Section


* Myanmar’s minority conundrum: Issues of Ethnicity and Authority


Chin National Day Message


Human Rights


Burmese Soldiers Arrested A Dying Elderly Woman


CHRO: January 30, 2002


A seriously ill elderly woman was arrested in Thantlang, Chin State on January 18, 2002 after the Burmese army accused her of having had contacts with her son who is a member of the Chin National Front, CNF. Taken into custody with the woman were three other local men who were present at the woman’s house when the Burmese army raided it.


The incident took place when the Burmese army surrounded the woman’s house on a tip-off that an active member of the Chin National Front was visiting her dying mother. The raid in the house turned out with no arrest of the man they were looking for but the army took into custody all the people present in the house.


The elderly woman was seriously ill and was dying but the army took no exception in arresting her. Mr. Bawi Hmung, Mr. Lal Nuai, and Mr. Ni Thang were arrested along with the woman.


Due to the seriousness of her illness the elderly woman was later allowed to be replaced by her daughter, Ms Sung Nawn who volunteered herself to be taken into custody in place of her mother.


All of the arrested were later sent to the 266 Light Infantry Battalion army base in Haka, where they are being detained and interrogated. They are now being charged under Unlawful Association Acts, which carries maximum sentence in prison.


A former woman prisoner who was convicted under the same Acts in 1999 and was detained in the army base in Haka, said that she was systematically tortured and ill treated throughout the course of her detention by the army.


Chin National Front is an armed group opposed to the Burmese military regime. It’s stated objectives include restoration of democracy in Burma and self-determination of the Chin people.


Burma’s Junta Arrested A Chin Professor


CHRO: January 30, 2002


Chin Human Rights Organization, CHRO today confirmed from a reliable source the arrest of professor Dr. Salai Tun Than by Burmese military junta.


The Irrawaddy news first reported the arrest of Dr. Salai Tun Than saying he was arrested for his solo protest in downtown Rangoon against the Burmese military regime.


CHRO contacted Salai Htin Kyaw Than, the second son of Prof. Dr. Salai Tun Than, and confirmed the arrest of the aging professor. However, Salai Htin Kyaw Than said that he was afraid of making contact with his family members in Burma due to possible further backlash from the authority against the family and he does not know about the latest condition of his father.


According to him, the proffessor mysteriously disappeared in Rangoon in late November and was found in the notorious Insein jail two weeks after his disappearance.


Two days before his disappearance, the professor was traveling with his wife from his Rangoon home to his residence at Yesin, where he served as a professor. He came back alone to Rangoon two days later. The next day, the professor left the house leaving his nephew alone at home saying that he was going to downtown.


Later that day the Military Intelligence Service personnel (MIS) came to his Rangoon house and inquired about the past activities of the professor. Meanwhile military Intelligence officials also searched the house of the professor in Yesin.


The professor never comes home since that day. Family members and relatives were desperately looking for the missing professor until they found him in Insein Jail two weeks later.


A Christian and a member of the Chin ethnic group, Dr. Salai Tun Than earned a Ph.D. in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin and had served as rector at the Yezin University of Agriculture in Pyinmana until 1990.


Salai Htin Kyaw Than came to the United States in August 2001, and is now living in Florida.


In the last 14 years, universities in Burma have been opened for less than 3 years. Thousands of students were massacred in 1988 by the Burmese armed forces and student and academic community has been the target of strict scrutiny and arrest under the current junta.


Petition to the Government of Myanmar


[Irrawaddi News Group, Editor’s note: This is an unabridged and unedited copy of the statement written and distributed by Dr. Salai Tun Than in Rangoon in December of last year. The distribution of the letter led to his arrest, and it is believed that he is currently being detained at Rangoon’s Insein Prison. The Irrawaddy obtained the letter from a very reliable source inside Burma.]


January 23, 2002


Citizens of Myanmar, I am Dr. Salai Tun Than, a retired professor, who belongs to a minority race called Asho Chin. I am here to request Myanmar military government five petitions, which are inalienable rights of Myanmar people. They are


No. 1. Hold the multiparty general election within one year.


No. 2. Let the election be held by a civilian interim government as soon as possible.


No. 3. Let the election be supervised by ASEAN and UN officials.


No. 4. Let all the eligible Myanmar citizens who want to contest in the election be able to complete including our military authorities as civilians.


No. 5. Transfer the state power to any winner organization as soon as possible without any condition.


Let me add a remark here. This as that I will be here between Myanmar Independent Monument and Yangon city hall until either the government agrees to my petitions or simply kills me. I am here offering my life for the cause of the rights of Myanmar citizens. I have neither to add nor to subtract from my petitions.


I would like to plead the military government to consider my petitions seriously whether they are just or biased toward anybody or organization except Myanmar people. Perhaps you already have contemplated on granting the matter before my petitions. If it were the case my I utter sadhu thrice and God bless you all. If not convene your military junta and scrutinize my petitions with soul searching intellectual faculties and the love of your country. If you cannot grant my petitions at any rate you simply kill me and I am ready to die for the rights of Myanmar citizens.


Of course many potential intellectuals of high school and university students had already been killed. It is about the time that you kill an old professor.


I am appealing to all armed forces: army, navy, air force, security force and police to consider the fairness of my petitions with concern. If it is for the benefit of Myanmar citizens I want you to act intelligently and courageously like the armed forces Indonesia and the Philippines. Do you still want to kill your flesh and blood who are demonstrating for the rights of Myanmar citizens because the authorities order you so? It is about the time to stop killing your kinsfolk. If you join us you all will be adored by the people. Let us rewrite our tarnished history together.


If you consider that you cannot agree with me, please don’t hesitate. Go ahead and kill me. I will be here all the time. I will forgive my killers from the bottom of my heart.


If we happen to meet together in one of the extensive existences of Sansaya, and if I were a mighty person and you all were weaklings and if I find you naked, starved, stricken with soars and diseases and get lost in the darkness of your existence in tears, may I kindly wipe away your tears and feed you, clothe you, and make you whole form your diseases and soars and give you hope with reality of well being in your lives, May God bless and forgive my killers.


May I appeal to the citizens of Myanmar including Sanghas, students, teachers, labourers, artistes, farmers, intellectuals, doctors, nurses, engineers, lawyers, judges, housewives and people from all walks of life, please consider my proposal thoroughly and thoughtfully. If you agree with me join me in the demonstration. Go into the streets wherever you are and chant the slogan. I want no one sitting on the fence and the opportunists. It is the fight for our rights and to the finish. The time is now or never. Let us show the military government that we are one and united solidly. Be courageous. Do the right and fear none. But I beseech you citizens of Myanmar. Let us have no violence, no profanity, and no vulgar acts. Don’t break to loot or hit anything. We had been trapped once on looting the leftover warehouses. Take lessons ! from this and let us not be trapped again. Looters, violent people, abusive people, and people showing vulgar acts are not ours. Avoid them I plead you. Demonstrate in the streets though you may be in tens, hundreds, or thousands. Do not tardy! let us act now. I trust that you all will dare to continue demonstration with boldness even after my death. If you are stopped by the authorities on the way to join me please reason with them to join us. If the authorities release prisoners and send intoxicated and drugged people please explain the reason with them what we are fighting for. Let them join us willingly. It is better to die than to live under the military boots without freedom. The lives you lost will not be in vain. Later Myanmar historians will honour you indeed. Don’t be insecure and afraid. Righteousness is on our side.


Generals, I am doing this on my own accord. No one urge me or bribe me or threaten me to do this, either underground or aboveground, individually or in groups, within the country or overseas. I am accountable for myself — no one else.


You all will see that I am wearing a doctorate gown, which I earned it. It is not to brag but to prove that I am a genuine old professor and I want to use it as a shroud for my dead body.


May I request ASEAN officials to convince or military government not to stay in power without consent of the people. If the military government holds the general election soon enough as requested their exit will be graceful. Otherwise their fate will be unimaginable and ASEAN’ s non-interference policy will be soiled and jeopardised. Likewise I would like to request the UN officials to intervene as you did in Yugoslavia before much lives are lost especially after my death. Myanmar people especially youths have suffered enough.


Again I would like to appeal Myanmar media people to carry on your duties normally and inform the people of Myanmar and the world what is actually happening now. It is your cardinal duty to defy the government’s order courageously to report the truth. Let us also chant the slogan of our petitions, the leader will say ” hold the multi party general elections” and the mass will respond ” within one year. Within one year.” The leader will say, ” let the election be held by” and the mass will respond ” the civilian interim government, the civilian interim government”. The leader will say ” let the election be supervised by” and the mass will respond ” ASEAN and UN officials, ASEAN and UN officials”. The leader will say ” let any eligible person be able to contest in the election” and the mass will respond ” including generals as ci! vilians, including generals as civilians”. Lastly the leader will say, ” transfer the state power to any winner organization without any condition” and the mass will respond ” as soon as possible, as soon as possible.” That is all for the slogan.


I thank you all and may God bless Myanmar people richly. The right of the people must be victorious indeed.


Minority Chin Christian Continue To Face Religious Discrimination in Burma


[CHRO Note: Burma is ruled by highly repressive, authoritarian military regimes. Since 1988 when the armed forces brutally suppressed massive pro-democracy demonstrations, a junta composed of senior military officers has ruled by decree, without a constitution or legislature. The most recent Constitution, promulgated in 1974, permitted both legislative and administrative restrictions on religious freedom, stating that “the national races shall enjoy the freedom to profess their religion, provided that the enjoyment of any such freedom does not offend the laws or the public interest.” Most adherents of all religions that are registered with the authorities generally are allowed to worship as they choose; however, the Government has imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and freq! uently abused the right to freedom of religion.


The following incidents are evidences of restriction imposed on religious minorities by the Burmese military junta.]


In 1993, Christians belonging to Assembly of God (AG) in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division started the construction of a big church in Taung-phi-la block of Kalaymyo. The township authority ordered the minister and church elders to stop the construction without any reason given, which was still under way in 1997. The construction of the church was halted.


Even though, we made repeated appeals to the ministry of religion to continue construction of our church, we have not received any response from the authority,¡̈ said Mr. Pa Tling (name changed for security reason), 54 years old Chin, who is one of the church elders.


Since we do not get any response from the authority, we approached district level authority to get permission to finish construction of our church,¡̈ he said.


In order to obtain permission, the AG church had to offer bribes to all level of authorities with varying amount of money. 50000 Kyats ( Kyat is Burmese currency ) to the chairman of Kalaymyo District Peace and Development Council, 50000 kyats to the chairman of Kalaymyo township Peace and Development Council, 30000 Kyats to the head of department of municipal, 5000 Kyats to Taung-phi-la block Peace and Development Council respectively.


Only after they paid the bribe, did they get oral permission to continue construction of the church. However, they were told to cover the building of the church with mats and other materials so that commuters from the street would not see the church building.


(Note: CHRO obtains a picture of the church building being covered)


Similar restrictions were suffered by Christians in Kankaw, Magwe division, which is not very far from Kalaymyo.


In Mintha village of Kankaw towship, Magwe division, a big Buddhist seminary was constructed with the support of the SPDC authority while Christians were prohibited to construct church in the nearby town. Though there are only seven students in the monastery seminary, they have build 9 buildings in the compound. In addition to not being subjected to restriction, the monastery was built with the State support.


Another tales of religious discrimination against Christians was reported in Thaungman village of Salin township of Sagaing Division. Christians in Thaungman village have constructed a church in their village in 1997.


In September 9, 2001, the village authority issued order decreeing that Christians in the village must stop conducting worship service in the church. Since then, Christians in Thaungman village had to stop conducting worship service in the church fearing the village authority. Although they have written to the Ministry of Religion to get permission to worship at their church, they have not gotten any response from the church.o


Mr. Lalliana, 52 years old Methodist missionary from Tahan, Sagaing division on September 29, 2001, reported the incident of Thaungman village to CHRO field monitor.


Real Life Story


Tortured Voice


A Chin woman political prisoner speaks out


Chin Human Rights Organization : January 2002


[CHRO Note: Ms. Ni Cia, a 23-year-old Chin woman and a former political prisoner in Burma, is currently seeking asylum in Malaysia under the United Nations’ auspices. While awaiting her status determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Office in Kuala Lumpur, she faces precarious situations there. She has been arrested more than one occasion by Malaysian police on immigration charges, a typical and daily experience encountered by most Chin refugees from Burma in Malaysia, who lack international legal protection.


Before fleeing Burma, Ni Cia was arrested in 1998 and convicted to two years in jail under Section 17(a) of Unlawful Association Act, for having associated with activities of the Chin National Front, an armed opposition group fighting against the Burmese military regime. After serving out her sentence in Kalay prison, she fled to Malaysia in July 2001.


In the following interview conducted by Chin Human Rights Organization, Ni Cia recounted how she endured the systematic method of torture employed by Burmese military regime on suspected members of oppositions as well as her experience in Burma’s prison. Currently more than a dozen Chin women are serving political sentence in Kalay jail under similar conditions.]


CHRO: When and where were you arrested?


Ms. Ni Cia: I was arrested on December 4th 1998, Friday at Cong Thia village, Thantlang Township, Chin State.


CHRO: What was the reason for your arrest?


Ms. Ni Cia: I was arrested because the Burmese troops learnt about my contacts with members of the Chin National Front, CNF. My friend, (Ms) Men Thluai and I have been helping the activities of the Chin National Front by giving them information about the movements of the Burmese troops around our village as well as in many other types of activity of CNF. We were responsible for carrying out rural development projects put forward by the CNF as well as shopping necessary goods and commodities for CNF activists, which are only available in larger towns.


I was a private teacher at a middle school. I was visiting a friend when a group of Burmese soldiers accompanied by a local village council member who would identify me appeared at the door out of nowhere and arrested me.


CHRO: What happened after your arrest?


The Burmese soldiers immediately escorted me to Thantlang town on foot. Shortly after we departed our village it started to get dark. My hands were tied to my back. They wouldn’t shed flashlights to my way and I would stumble several times along the journey. Whenever I stumbled and fell down, they would call me a bitch, and spit on me and call me by all kinds of abusive languages.


We arrived Thantlang town at 6:00 in the morning after traveling on foot overnight. After two days of detention in Thanthang, military intelligence personnel came up to me in the morning and tied my hands up and loaded me into an army truck. I was seated on the floor of an army truck surrounded by 30 armed men. I was being taken to Haka. Since the road was unpaved and rough, I would fall to the floor whenever the truck shook. Since my hands were tied up, I was unable to get up easily after being thrown to the floor by the movement of the truck. I injured my rib from this and it hurt a lot. Sometimes my sarong (Skirts) got unfastened and I became half naked in front of 30 men surrounding me. They would lift my skirts up with their gun barrel and ask me how many times I have sexually entertained members of the CNF or if I was a concubine of a CNF man.


Upon our arrival in Hakha, I was handed over to the local policewomen. I overheard them calling the 266 Army Infantry Battalion and soon afterwards I was blindfolded with my hands and feet tied up and being loaded into the waiting army truck. I did not have a clue as to where I was being taken. The next thing I remember was when my blindfold was removed and I found myself in a stone cell with no single hole or ventilation. It was in fact an army base in Rungtlang. (Rungtlang or mount Rung is located above Haka town) Then I started to feel severe pain in my ribs. When I asked where I was, they responded me by saying that I was such a stupid person who thinks herself so brave as to rebel the government and that I was in a place of no return.


CHRO: What happened afterwards?


Ms. Ni Cia: They started torturing me in that cell. There were altogether seven people interrogating me. Each one of them used different technique of torture. While my hands remained tied up to my back, they put a plastic hood over my head and tightly secured around my neck and I began to suffocate. Only after I began to feel unconscious and fell to the ground did they poke a hole in the plastic hood around my nose with their cigarette lights. Afterwards they tied up my feet and my hands to the front, and they let me do sit-ups until I fell to the ground from exhaustion. Each time I fell down, they started grinding my toes and my fingertips with their military boots to the floor. The pain was agonizing.


Later, they gave me an electric shock. After that they beat me all over my body with a 3-inch thick wooden stick. There were bruises all over my body and I was soaked in blood. They kicked me and punched me all over my body.


They made me take a bath with icy water in the middle of the chilling December night. They even burned my checks with their cigarette lights. Afterwards, they threw me into a dark pit. It was chilling inside the pit after being soaked in water.


The torture went on for 7 days and I was deprived of food and sleep during the whole week. I caught a fever on the seventh day and by that time my body was soaked with my vomits. When they try to start torturing me on the seventh day, I just fell unconscious from my weakness and pain. The next thing I knew was I had been transferred to the local Police station, which has no separate facility or cell for women. My interrogators and torturers were all men all along.


CHRO: When and how did you end up in Kalay Prison and what sentence did you get?


Ms. Ni Cia: It was on January 20, 1999 that the verdict was reached by the judge. I appeared in court nine times before being sentenced to 2 years in prison. I was convicted under so-called Section 17(a), which is something related to armed insurgency. This sentence landed me into Kalay Prison on February 2nd 1999.


CHRO: Did you feel that you were treated differently or discriminated against because of your being a Chin woman?


Ms. Ni Cia: Throughout the course of my interrogation and torture, as well as in the prison, what they always emphasized was “You Chin people are uncivilized beings who from your ancestors do not know how to dress up properly, and who shamelessly dare to oppose the army’s authority”. During one of my interrogation sessions, they made me strip naked and they let me mimic the way a traditional Chin man would dress in pre-colonial period.


In the prison, women prison guards on duty treated non-Burman ethnic women differently. Even Burman inmates would look down upon us and would always use abusive language to us. We weren’t supposed to talk back to anything being said to us or we risked beatings and whipping.


CHRO: Did you have to work in the Kalay prison?


Ms. Ni Cia: We have to work all the time in Kalay prison. We work on sowing and harvesting crops. On those occasions, we were taken out to the fields. But most of the time, we work inside the prison compound. We took care of vegetable plantations; we cleaned the prison facilities, cells and the like. Sometimes the women guards would make us wash their underwear and materials that they had used for their menstrual purposes. Until 9 p.m. at night we did knitting and embroidery works.


During the summer when the temperature got really hot, we were made to kill 500 flies (insects) per day per person. We were caned 20 times if we failed to meet the designated number of flies to be killed. The women political prisoners weren’t usually let work outside of the prison but men inmates with similar cases have to labor in worksites other than the prison compound. Under the burning temperature, these men inmates are forced to work without rest and without proper meals. We often heard that 3 to 5 prisoners were dying everyday under those conditions. There might have been many Chin men prisoners. This thought just makes me heartbroken.


CHRO: What kind of food were you given in the prison?


Ms. Ni Cia: What can you expect? What a prisoner gets is the worst possible kind of food one can imagine. For breakfast meal we were given rice, which was the kind of rice we would normally feed pigs with, and a tiny bowl of watery pea soup. The rice is mingled with half unprocessed grains and small bits of stones. Before we could eat the rice we had to separate stones and unprocessed grains from the rice. What’s left after doing that was just a tiny amount of rice. For dinner, they gave us the same sort of rice with sweet potato leaves cooked in a huge metal barrel. Sometimes they would give us rice soups for breakfast. The soup was so watery that it looked just like water that had been used for washing up the rice. It was too salty. We were fed twice a day.


CHRO: How was the medical care when you get sick in the prison?


Ms. Ni Cia: There is no proper medical attention at all. Only after we became seriously ill, would they give us some pills. It did not help at all because it was usually too late for the medicines to have any affect on us. Another problem was that we did not have enough water. We were allowed to use only ten small cups of water for bathing. This was only when we have enough water. But when water got scarce we are allowed to use only six cups of water. Due to this we contacted all kinds of skin diseases. When we got sick or caught a fever, there are no enough blankets to keep us warm. What we had was a sheet of blanket just enough to cover our body. We would cry and moan from sickness and the guard would scold us and accuse us of pretending sick just because we were too lazy to work.


Apart from yourself, how many Chin women were or are still there in Kalay Prison. Could you please tell us their names, from which areas, town or district in Chin State they are originally?


As far as my knowledge goes, there are approximately 25 Chin women inmates in Kalay prison. A few of them were released while I was there. I don’t know about all of them but the following are people that I remember as far as my recollection goes.


1- Dawt Thluai Ling (Haka, Chin State)


2- Khuangzi (Loklung, Chin State)


3- Sai Cer (Tlangpi, Chin State)


(These three women are political prisoners arrested in connection with CNF)


4- Mah Sui (Tidim, Chin State)


5- Hoi Ngeih Dim (From Tidim, Chin State)


6- Sial Cing (Tidim, Chin State)


7- Nu Dim Alias Khun Nu (From Tidim, Chin State)


8- Man Suan Dim (From Tidim, Chin State)


9- Nu Ngeih (From Tidim, Chin State)


10- Ma Biak (From Tahan, Kalay township, Sagiand Division)


11- Nuam Cing (Tidim, Chin State)


12- U Hrang (Falam, Chin State)


13- Khun Nu (Falam, Chin State)


14- Sui Nawn Sung (Dong Va, Chin State)


15- Ni Zi (Lung Hnam, Chin State)


16- *Sai Sung (Bungkhua, Chin State)


*Ms. Sai Sung came in just before I was released. She has two children, 9 and 11 years old. Her husband was arrested before she was. Both of them were arrested for sympathizing and collaborating with the CNF. Their children are being taken care of by a very old couple in Thangtlang. At the time of Sai Sung’s arrest, she was forced to take off her clothes and paraded naked in front of the Burmese soldiers. While was being escorted by the soldiers from her village to Thantlang town, she was forced to wear only her underwear all along the one-day journey on foot.


In addition to the names I just mentioned, there are several other women whose names and original places I cannot remember. Their sufferings are beyond anyone’s comprehension. More or less their cases have to do with some kinds of political activity. The above 16 women are those that are facing particularly difficult situations. They have either no close relative to support them or no one to look after their children. Most of them are serving out prison terms ranging from a minimum 15 to 35 years. They have no hope for outliving their prison terms. They just want to die now than going through a slow and painful death. They are very weak and depressed because they all have children and family to think about. Most of them are suffering from high-blooded pressure from depression and vitamin deficiency. They have no access to medical attention and their sicknesses worsened du! e to lack of nutritious food. In fact, the foods they eat obviously make their sickness worse. It is really heartbreaking to even think about their conditions.


CHRO: How do you plan to move on?


Ms. Ni Cia: Without legal protection, I am vulnerable to arrest and all kinds of police harassment here in Malaysia. I am constantly in fear for my safety. I don’t know how long I can hide before being arrested again and possibly sent back to Burma.


Scholar Section


Myanmar’s Minority Conundrum: Issues of Ethnicity and Authority


David I. Steinberg (Georgetown University )




The issue of the status and authority of the one-third of the population of Myanmar (Burma), composed of diverse indigenous non-Burman peoples, remains the most intractable of the problems facing the Burmese state since independence in 1948.1 The sharing of political power in some manner acceptable to the local populations, and social and economic equity among these diverse peoples are all related to, but even more fundamental and difficult of solution than, the issue of the political form of government that has bedeviled the state for decades. Burma-Myanmar has been on the brink of fragmentation because of the diffuse, often antithetical, perceptions of these issues by one or more ethnic groups since independence. The desires for independence from the British, dependant on minim! al titular ethnic unity, and the forceful leadership of General Aung San whose role was accepted by most minorities, were the factors that initially succeeded in bringing these groups together at the Panglong Conference in February 1947 that forged the fragile cohesion that existed on independence. An effective answer to the minority issues is still sought, and its amelioration or solution may provide signals and models for approaching some of the more delicate other national issues that transcend ethnicity.


The unity of the state has been a primary goal of the military SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) and the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council). The concern over this goal is, however, not a product of this relatively new incarnation of the military. Since independence, the Burmese military have fought for the unity of the state; more specifically the 1958 and then 1962 military coups were carried out with the avowed purposes of preventing civil war and upholding this unity.


The problem of internal unity has had external dimensions. As the Burmese military has been preoccupied with national unity, senior staffs have been suspicious of the role that foreign nations and peoples have played in fomenting national fragmentation and disunity. They accurately can point, and do so continuously in the controlled press, to history to support their present concerns. They correctly charge that the British employed the ‘divide and rule’ policy of administratively separating some of the peripheral minority areas from Burma Proper (where most of the Burmans lived).2 More important, however, has been recent history, when each foreign power, unofficially and often clandestinely, at one time or another has supported for their own and diverse purposes, political or ethnic rebellions involv! ing minority peoples. These included some unofficial British encouragement of independence for the Karen, Chinese assistance to the Burma Communist Party,3 United States covert support to Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) troops that retreated into Burma in 1949-50,4 external Muslim support to Muslim rebels in the Arakan, Indian connivance with Naga and Chin rebels on that frontier, and Thai assistance at various national and local levels to a wide variety of ethnic and political rebellions located along its long littoral. It is no wonder that Burmese authorities have viewed with great suspicion the roles that foreigners have in the past played in interfering in their country, have projected these same roles into the present, and fear that they may exist into the future. Present internal administrative policies are in part likely to have been formulated with this in mind.


These past problems, severe in themselves and sufficient to cause suspicions, were however aggravated by seven additional and important factors:


[1] Some of these peoples had significant Christian percentages of their populations in contrast to the overwhelming importance of Buddhism among the Burmans.5 This aroused the sympathies of some of the external Christian communities and sects that helped propagandize the plight of these peoples and gave them moral (and perhaps financial) support.


[2] As the military, especially in the period of military rule under the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP: 1962-1988), insulated the state from the outside world, the minority groups were more in touch with external affairs and foreign elements for both weapons and moral support than was the central Burmese government. Thus they made their case to the court of world opinion while the military regime became more introverted, isolated, and more xenophobic. This naturally increased suspicions that foreigners were once again aimed at dividing the country.


[3] The Burman majority is the only major ethnic group that does not have ethnic kin in other lands across the arbitrarily demarked colonial borders; this creates a sense of international ethnic identity Burmans lack.6 In traditional Southeast Asia, boundaries in the modern sense did not exist. Power radiated out in concentric circles from the center and states could be associated with more than one suzerain group, and pay tribute to them. The colonial powers extended administrative control to borders that lacked ethnic, geographic, or other considerations, thus creating some of the problems states in the region today face.


[4] The military, perhaps without central authority and on the whims of individual local but exceedingly powerful military commanders, have treated the minorities, among whom they were stationed and whom they administered, with disdain for their cultures and often religions.7 Charges of human rights abuses and forced porterage by the military in border regions are widespread.


[5] The hill (minority) areas were climatically suitable for the production of poppies from which opium, morphine, and heroin were produced, thus giving those engaged in this trade the means to purchase arms and the motivation to keep the central government at arm’s length. Opium production was introduced in the colonial period, and until 1959 opium was legal in the Shan State and sawbwas (local maharajas) received revenues from its use.


[6] The natural resources of the hill regions, such as jade and timber, provided lucrative means to sustain local populations in rebellion.


[7] Foreign missionaries and then international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some of which had religious origins, were extensively involved with the minorities both because they often were animists and more susceptible to Christian conversion, and then because poverty was exceptionally high and health standards low in those regions.


All of these factors have increased mutual suspicions.


However accurate the perceptions of foreign support to various diverse minorities may have been in the past, the situation has vastly changed since the earlier period of Burmese independence. It is now accurate to maintain that no foreign power wants to see the break up of the Burmese state. The balkanization of Myanmar would create conditions of potential chaos in that country, a pivotal state that has become the nexus of real, but unstated, regional rivalry between India and China. Without question the instabilities created would spill over into the region and exacerbate these obvious, if unadmitted, rivalries. There would likely be increases in refugees and illegal immigration, expanded epidemics and health problems, and an even greater trade in narcotics and trafficking in women.8 In a sense, the! past perceptions of the Burmese leadership have been erroneously perpetuated into the present, creating suspicions that no longer are grounded. These perceptions, however inaccurate they may be, markedly contribute to the difficulty of resolving these issues.


As foreign perceptions have also changed, most minority aspirations have also undergone major shifts. Where some minority leaders in the past had publicly advocated independence, some UN trusteeship, most now do not do so. They have instead argued for some form of local autonomy or federal authority, although the word ‘federal’ seems anathema to the military who equate it with virtual independence and the eventual effective break up of the state.9 Independence of any of the regional groupings within Myanmar would not be economically sustainable, and could lead to the kind of ‘ethnic cleansing’ we have witnessed too frequently in other areas.


Yet the old acquiescence of the minorities to Burman domination is now more problematic. As Burman nationalism has understandably grown, so has ethnic nationalism, a phenomenon that is evident worldwide. This means that minorities are likely to demand more from the center as they see their brethren having more autonomy and doing better across the porous borders.


This paper will consider only the issue of the indigenous minorities of Myanmar. The status of the non-indigenous minorities, more specifically the Indian (all those from the subcontinent) and Chinese communities, are not discussed here although their previous and present positions in the economy have strongly and negatively affected Burman attitudes toward foreign economic exploitation and suspicions of the role of foreigners in that society. The colonial period Burmese economy was essentially under foreign control, which was a highly significant factor in the political legitimacy of socialism–getting the economy once again under Burman control. The Indian community occupied a most important position in the colonial and pre-independence period, but since have been replaced in the last decade by the ! Chinese as the single dominant foreign economic influence in the society. Suspicions and prejudices against these groups so intensified that in 1984 a nationality act was passed that relegated inferior status to all those minorities that could not establish residence in Burma before 1824 (the beginnings of colonial influence through the First Anglo-Burmese War and the importation of Indian labor and Chinese immigration). Although the importance of these communities should not be underestimated, they represent a different issue except where Chinese influence has deeply penetrated the ethnic minority groups along the Chinese frontier. Yet the overwhelming and obvious Chinese presence and wealth are potentially explosive and should not be ignored either by the leaders of Myanmar or foreign observers.


State Goals


The goal of national unity of the SLORC/SPDC government is thus conceptually appropriate, proper, and potentially in the interests of the peoples of that country and in those of the neighboring nations. In Myanmar, the role of the military is not now to protect the state from external enemies10 (the function of the military in most states), for such enemies are presently nonexistent, but rather to enforce internal security and preserve internal unity. Although military functions may be different from those in many other countries, the problem the state faces is not in its goal, but rather in the means employed by the central military authorities and their regional commanders to reach that goal. One essential conclusion of this paper is that the military government through its policies and actions is ! undercutting, even destroying, the possibility of attaining its own goal of long-term national unity toward which it struggles. Yet over a longer period the reputation and efficacy of the military will be determined by its ability to attain national unity. This disconnect between goal and its realization is a critical issue facing the military authorities that is obscured by their (presumed) view that the situation is essentially under control for the shorter term through the cease-fires, the amelioration of many active rebellions, and a greater government presence in the periphery. This is likely to be illusory.


That admittedly strong statement needs explication, for on the surface the SLORC/SPDC can point with considerable pride to the changes it has brought about in the minority regions. There is now a wide array of cease fires with diverse minority peoples; the bloodshed has stopped, but it had continued for decades, in some areas even over two generations, and this is not easily forgotten. This has brought some relief to some of the minority peoples, and has further served to strengthen the military in its control over the state as a whole, for it has freed its troops to deal with the remaining insurgencies that have become weaker and more ineffective. Some infrastructure has been built where little existed before, providing access to previously isolated regions, and there now is a concerted effort to ad! minister regions that were essentially beyond the control of the central government almost since independence. The creation of a new ministry, the Ministry of Development of Border Areas and National Races under an August 1993 law, is part of the process. As access has been strengthened or created, so has the responsibility of the central authorities in direct or indirect management increased.


Yet these new conditions of relative tranquility remain fragile. The cease fires have not solved problems–they have sequestered them for an indefinite period, but such armistices are likely to collapse without major changes and improvements in the economic and social conditions of these peoples, and in the political arrangements that must be made to provide some locally defined degree of justice in the majority-minority relationships.


If the minorities in some cases have relied on foreign moral support, the Burmese government has in part not been candid in its portrayal of minority issues. Under the BSPP military government, the state downplayed minority issues in such international United Nations fora as ECAFE (later ESCAP), claiming that there were no such issues. Later, under the SLORC/SPDC it has averred that there were 135 ‘races,’ all of whom had to be dealt with in some appropriate manner and for whom the old administrative structures did not work.11 Both approaches grossly exaggerated the issue but from opposite points of the spectrum. The figure of 135 ‘races’ is actually a pre-World War II designation of a linguistic map that includes languages and dialects of such languages.12 There are actually far fewer ethnic groups,! and ‘race’ is not an appropriate scientific term to apply to this diversity. Many believe that the military in differing periods has used the minority issue–either dismissing it or overemphasizing it–as a means to perpetuate its direct control.


The formation and expansion of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) create another element of social and political control by the Burman military-dominated group over minority peoples. With between about 15 million members, it is a military attempt at mass mobilization that increases the tatmadaw’s capacity for action toward its desired ends. Although it is Burman lead and completely controlled by the military, its membership has been extended to minority regions.


Majority-Minority Problems


There is a profound lack of trust between the majority and individual minority groups that has become exacerbated over time. In their efforts to maintain national unity, the tatmadaw has engaged in actions that have lengthened the distance between majority and the minorities, and thus made more tenuous the relationships between Burman and most minorities. These actions may have been in response to varied stimuli such as perceived internal threats to the state sometimes encouraged from foreign sources, attempts to ensure internal military hegemony over all centers of power within the state, and an essential disdain of minority cultures and peoples. These actions include:


Elimination of the limited local minority autonomy under civilian rule (1948-58, 1960-62).


Direct administration of local government in minority areas by military personnel.


Treatment of minority areas as virtually foreign occupied territories.


Elimination of significant minority leadership in the upper echelons of the tatmadaw.


Lack of official recognition of education in local, non-Burman languages.


Restriction of the avenues of social mobility for minority peoples.


Lack of respect for local religious practices in certain minority areas (especially the Chin State).


Arbitrary confiscation of land.


Lack or transfer of central economic resources to minority areas commensurate with their believed contribution to the national income (through exploitation of natural resources).


Support of military units foraging off the countryside and the confiscation of land for military and military-owned agricultural purposes.


Forcing villagers to be removed to alternative, military approved sites and in some areas creating ‘free-fire’ zones.


Forced porterage of military supplies in the minority areas where fighting is endemic.


If mutual trust is not forthcoming, major points of tension could intensify these past problems. For example, the minority groups involved in the cease fires have not surrendered to the Burmese authorities. They still are allowed to retain their weapons and can engage in their traditional agricultural pursuits. But when, for example, a new constitution is promulgated, and before elections can be held, the minorities are supposed to surrender their weapons to ensure the fairness of such voting. It is highly unlikely that this will happen beyond some token release of arms. The levels of trust do not now exist, and are unlikely to exist in the future without significant changes in the administration of minority affairs, to encourage the withdrawal of such weaponry . The surrender of! arms by minorities around the world under various peace plans has not worked, and it is highly unlikely that it would occur in Myanmar, where ethnically related insurgencies have continued for so long and distrust is so high.


The military have promised to deliver to minority areas increased access to education, health services, and employment opportunities. Yet the budgets allocated to such activities are highly limited and inadequate to accomplish the intended purposes. These budgets seem mainly to be the reported reallocation of previously determined national sectoral budgets (education, health, etc.) to these areas, but the total national budgets for such services are already grossly insufficient for the needs on a national basis and have deteriorated in real and per capita terms over the past decade, let alone in the minority regions.


Thus mutual levels of suspicion, inflamed by historical precedents and recent activities, require the deft handling of negotiations at least to meet the minimal set of requirements of all sides. There is no evidence that there is either this political will or interest.


The situation becomes more complex when the role of the National League for Democracy (NLD) is factored into the already complicated equation. The NLD, although in alliance with a number of minority parties especially the Shan NLD, is essentially a Burman party. It has through the exiled National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) called for ‘National Reconciliation’ at a March 6-7, 2001meeting close to the Thai border. It supported making public the secret dialogue between the SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi that started in October 2000 and that continues at this writing, and wants the minorities brought into the dialogue process but at a later date because the present dialogue conditions are too fragile. It sees a staged set of consultations: intra-ethnic (to ensure t! hose representing a minority are legitimate), inter-ethnic, and national. It recognizes that although minorities are considered as ethnic entities, they are internally split with factional problems that must be overcome. Yet the government and the NLD share a common attitude: each demands from its adherents a kind of orthodoxy that makes dialogue far more difficult.


Current Dilemmas


Many observers outside Myanmar have been encouraged by the private dialogue that has taken place from October 2000 between members of the SPDC and Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The United Nations Special Representative, Ambassador Razali Ismail, has been active in pursuing this welcome initiative, and his involvement in Myanmar has so far been positive. He was in Myanmar in early June, and is expected to return to Yangon in July. Yet there are many who remain skeptical about the potential for success (even the use of such a term is certainly defined by the interests of each of the parties) for a number of reasons, most obviously because it is highly unlikely that the military will give up essential power, although cosmetic changes s! eem possible, even likely. Important as well has been the lack of inclusion of minorities in such a dialogue. This has been a concern of Ambassador Razali as well, but at this writing there seems to be no action on this issue; while the opposition feels it is premature, perhaps the government would rather attempt to isolate the NLD (and, of course, its leadership) from the minorities. This is of importance to the minorities because the NLD is essentially a Burman party, what is left of it after being decimated by the military authorities. Although it is true that in the 1990 election the NLD overwhelmingly won, they were in alliance with a series of minority political parties as well.13


In the early period following the establishment of the SLORC, the NLD position (or more accurately that of Aung San Suu Kyi) seems to have been that the solution to minority issues could be easily resolved following the re-institution of democracy in that country, and thus discussion of specific minority questions should be delayed to some later date.14 That seems to have changed. As the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) has attempted to draft possible constitutions for the state, acts that the military have said to be illegal, the National Convention that the SLORC convened to draw up a new constitution with a highly select group of delegates and in a manner that was heavily scripted and controlled, has floundered on the issues of minority representatio! n and power under such a new configuration.


As the issue of a new constitution is sporadically debated,15 the state organs of information have leaked certain guidelines on minority rule that are likely to be enshrined under a new constitution, whenever it may appear, led by the military authorities. The first is that the former minority ‘states’ (Shan, Kachin, etc.) are inappropriate as pivotal administrative entities because they are inaccurate descriptions of ‘race,’ as these areas contain many minority groups, not only the ethnic group for which the state was named (the Chin State is an exception). Second, that in order for some of the most important cease fires to continue, some groups with concentrated ethnic populations within contiguous townships would have a degree of local autonomy called ‘self-administered zones.! ’ Most important among them are the Wa, who are the best armed and most difficult to contain. Others are said to be planned for the Naga, Danu, Kokang, Pa-O, and Palaung peoples.


This is an effective but short-term strategy. This provides such groups with local autonomy that they have never legally had since independence, and at the same time it defuses power to such a local level that it has no national impact. The model for such activity may be drawn from the Chinese ‘autonomous regions,’ where limited local authority rests with minority groups but real power is lacking. The Chinese model may appear to more savory than the Russian model, which the Burmese may view as having led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. If the British engaged in a ‘divide and rule’ policy, so it can be charged that the military is intent on a similar approach but using more modern methods. Yet the Burmese authorities will be able to explain to the outside world that in fac! t they have granted more autonomy to minorities than any previous civilian government, and this will be at least accurate in part, although misleading as a whole.16 This, the tatmadaw may claim, should satisfy foreign critics who harp on human rights.


The levels of distrust between the majority and minority ethnic groups are part of a series of such apprehensions about the sharing of power. They are part of the pattern of problems that include a tendency of the central government (civilian and military alike) to deny effective authority to any potential peripheral political, ethnic, or social grouping.17 Although these tendencies are simply that, and can be overcome, it makes compromise more difficult.


The minority issues are further complicated by internal divisions among some minorities and fighting between some of them. The Karen National Union, the oldest extant rebellion in the state, has for years been led by Bo Mya, an anachronistic leader who is evidently out of step with the younger Karen rebel leaders who would be prepared to make compromises with the SPDC.18 In the recent (spring 2001) disputes between the Thai and Myanmar authorities, there seems to have been an attempt to pit one minority against another. As the Wa, supported by the SPDC, have moved and continue to plan to move 50,000 families (perhaps 200,000 people) south toward the Thai frontier from their traditional home areas close to the Chinese border in the Shan State, this has




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