VOL.IV No.I JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2001 Interview With Lieutenant Colonel Biak To
The life and views of a veteran Army and Police Officer
( Rhododendron Note: Lieutenant Colonel Biak To a B.A graduate from Mandalay University, enlisted as a private in the Burmese Army on 17 November 1973 after he found out that his movement as leader of Haka University Students Association was closely monitored by the notorious Military Intelligence Service (MIS). It was the time when a new constitution for Socialist authoritarian regime was being drafted in Burma and the authorities were in full alert to crush every possible hindrance to the progress of constitutional making process. After going through different levels of military training with a number of postings in different parts of Burma including one in the Light Infantry Battalion (101) under Divisional Command 77 stationed in Wa area, he became a Captain in 1984.
In 1990, he shifted from the Army to Police service on a rank-to-rank basis, becoming a police inspector. Being an educated man with adequate service experience, he was promoted Major in 1994. And by 1998, he became Lieutenant Colonel in the 1st Police Regiment.
In 200, for the reason that was never made clear to him, Lt. Colonel Biak To had his position stripped off from him. Much to his surprise, he was fired with a fine of Kyats 15,9000, which he had to pay apparently without knowing why.
In the following disclosure to CHRO, Lt. Colonel Biak To revealed how he was discriminated and unfairly treated by his superiors in the Army and Police simply because of his religious and ethnic identity. He also explained his views and perspectives involving the various aspects of problems facing Burma.)
CHRO: How was your life during your service in the Burmese Army and Police?
Lt. Col. BT: My father was Rev. Lal Hnin. He was one of the first Chin converts into Christianity. So, I was grown up in a good Christian family. I finished high school from Haka State High School and graduated from Mandalay University in 1972.
I was a weight lifter and healthy young man. I would like to become an army officer. Therefore, after my graduation from university, I applied for Military Officer Training School. However, because I am a Chin ethnic nationality, my application was not considered. So, I joined the army as a private on November 17,1973. I tried very hard to please my superiors in performing my duties. I was promoted to Lance corporal in February l976 and corporal in October of the same year in 1976. Because of my work performance, I was allowed to join Officer Training School in 1979 in service. Then I became second Lieutenant in April 1980. That means it took me almost 8 years to reach this level while other Burmese Buddhist graduates could attain this level of rank just one year after their graduation from a university.
The vast majority of the ranking officers in the Burmese Army are Burman Budhists. As a result, I was always discriminated against the dominant Budhists for my being an ethnic Chin Christian. For example, the non-Burman soldiers were selectively assigned in the front line to fight against the Karen rebels, saying that we were brave and loyal. The ethnic soldiers were, in fact, respected as the most brave and hardy fighters in the Burmese Army. As ethnic minority soldiers, we enjoyed virtually no rest time and were never given permission or leave to visit our relatives. The most frustrating thing was when we returned from a successful operation or captured enemy positions, the Burman soldiers who remained in the camps all the while and did not participate in the actual combat got promoted, while we, the actual fighters were neglected for promotions. A Burman officer with less educational background and service experience would become a Colonel while I remained as a Captain. Our superiors would always encourage us to become Budhists so as to be considered for promotions, but we always chose not to be promoted than abandoning our faith. An ethnic soldier would not be promoted to a position higher than Major regardless of his service years and how many times he had been transferred.
There is no difference in the Police either. We were repeatedly told to convert to Buddhism if we really aspired for promotions. This also tended to be a mere deception. A close friend of mine, Thein Lwin, an ethnic Shan Christian converted to Buddhism for want of promotions but was never promoted. He just ended up being cheated of his faith.
On July 10, 2000, I gave a speech to the police parade mentioning my being a Chin Christian and son of a pastor that from childhood, I never wanted to tell lies, steal or misbehave and that I wanted everyone to do likewise. Four days later, on July 14, I received an order saying that I have been dismissed from the police.
CHRO: Do you know the reason why you were laid off?
Lt.Co. BT: I still have no idea on what exact account I was dismissed. The order came all of a sudden without any formal procedures. Under normal circumstances either a preliminary inquiry or departmental inquiry should have been conducted before a government service could be tried for any misconduct or violations of rules. There was not any such thing happening in my case. At the time of my dismissal, I was the only person holding a B.A degree among officers of my rank in the entire nine Police Regiments in Burma. In fact, I should have been the first one to be considered for promotions. Obviously, the authorities did not want to see a Chin Christian holding high position that they made a pre-emptive move to dismiss me without any apparent charges. It just did not end with my dismissal. In an attempt to prevent me from leaving the country, the authorities disqualified me from being eligible for a passport in seven years. However, I was able to obtain a passport under a fake name and secretly managed to sneak out of the country. I have a wife and three children remaining in Burma. I am constantly worried about them because if the authorities found out my absence, they would be subject to harassment and persecution.
CHRO: As a middle rank police officer, can you tell us about the prison conditions in Burma? Under what conditions do the prisoners commonly live?
Lt.Col. BT: Prison conditions differ from one another. In a major prison like Insein prison, different inmates receive different treatment depending on the severity and importance of their case. Inmates serving political sentence would receive better treatments in terms of food and facilities so as to look good before foreign agencies that might come to assess the prison conditions. All the prisoners in general, are not adequately receiving food and medical attention. In some cases, prisoners mostly depend on their relatives who brought them food from outside. Prisoners having no relatives around have to stay hungry. There are nine hard labor camps across Burma in which inmates have to work on government’s agricultural projects and road construction etc. This usually happened under serious conditions and beyond the prisoners can endure. There is no medical treatment available for them unless their relatives can send them money to guy it. But the jail officials would always take the money for themselves. The number of death in prisons is dramatically increasing everywhere. People are so much afraid of being ended up in the country’s prison that they are fleeing the county each day.
CHRO: What is the nexus between the military regime and drug?
I do not know much about the drug. Drugs come mostly from the area controlled by Wa militants, which had signed cease-fire agreement with the SPDC. This drug involved mostly stimulant tablets and fewer amount of cocaine. There are more than 50 such refinery machines operating in Wa area. These drugs are transported and smuggled out to Thailand from where they are transported again to other countries.
CHRO: How would you describe your views with regards to the present military regime and the country’s problems in general?
What appears to be the main problem with the present military regime is a notion that they can stay in power as long as they can cheat the people. They do not seem to care about what is going on around the world other than their own ideological belief. They have sold off all the country’s natural resources including teaks and gemstones and pocketed it for themselves. Huge amount of money is spent on military hard wares and equipments. They projected some money on building bridges and dams, which they boasted them in the State-controlled Television broadcast and newspapers as the unprecedented achievements that ever happened only under their reign. They believe that no one including the UN can interfere with the internal matters and that they will run the country as they like.
What military regime has in mind is only the benefits and welfare of their own families while the people at large are being pushed to the point of starvation. Prices are skyrocketing day after day and year after year. A person could live easily on 3.15 kyats a day earning in the 1960s. But today, kyats 300 cannot even survive a person. Inflation rate is fast becoming high because the government had allowed former Drug lord Khunsa and his associates to launder their drug money in the country, which involved large scale buying of properties and land across the country.
The question of democracy seems to be still far away. The military officials have enjoyed very much the taste of being in power that they will never want cede it again. They do not even attempt to understand what democracy really is. The cry of ethnic minority for self-determination and federalism means some sort of separatism or independence movement to the military junta. All their intention and attempts are only to suppress any kind of elements they deem a threat to them. Their targets have constantly been the NLD and Aungsan Suukyi. They are now trying to expand the arm force on a daily basis. More than thrice the numbers of normal recruits are now in the Defense Studies Academy in Maymyo. Because the junta has held everything so tight that without any assistance or effective pressure from abroad, I think the question of democracy is still not within reach.
Burmese Soldiers Stole A Church’s Solar Plate
Burmese soldiers led by Lt. Kyaw Min of Light Infantry Battalion ( LIB ) 266 in Vuangtu camp, Thantlang township, Chin State stole a solar plate and a 12-volt battery from Lawngtlang (B) village on October 13, 2000. The soldiers, who said they were running out of battery, asked the headman of the village to find a solar plate. The headman, Lian Rem ( name change ), told the officer that the village didn’t have a solar plate, but unfortunately, the officer saw one that was being charged in the sunlight, and he told the headman to pick it. The headman explained that that was the property of a Church. The officer threatened him and forced him to take the solar plate which he would take for nothing.
The villagers expected that they would get it back the next day, but the platoon commander Lt. Kyaw Min asked them to send two porters to carry the solar plate and the battery to his camp to be his property. It worths over Ks. 100000, including the labor charge. The solar plate was donated to the Church by Lawngtlang natives working in Malaysia. Vuangtu and Lawngtlang are villages in Thantlang township, Chin State.
The soldiers in Vuangtu camp had been reported to have the practice of taking properties from business people who come and go through Hlamphei, Khuabung ‘A’ and Lawngtlang ‘A’.
In July 2000, they took 70 heads of cattle from smugglers and sold them in the villages for their own pocket. They also seized 15 horse-loads of goods which the owners never got back. In addition, the soldiers asked the village headmen to help them cover what they did to the smugglers. When the headmen denied, they were threatened and disturbed by the Burmese soldiers in several ways. The name of the headmen are hidden for security reason.
Burma Orders Christians In Chin State Not To Celebrate Christmas
Democratic Voice of Burma, Oslo, in Burmese 1245 gmt 23 Dec 00
The SPDC State Peace and Development Council army has ordered major cities in Chin State, where over 90 per cent of the people are Christians, not to hold any grand Christmas celebrations and some villages are not even allowed to hold any celebration at all. New Delhi based DVB Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Thet Naing filed this report.
Begin Thet Naing recording The SPDC frontline troops summoned people from Haka and Thangtlang Townships in Chin State and told them they were not allowed to hold any Christmas ceremony and prayer meeting. They went from village to village and told them if they wanted to hold any ceremony they are to hold it in a simple and discrete manner at their homes. Although the chairmen of the village Peace and Development Councils and pastors argued that Christmas is a very auspicious feast for Christians and requested them to allow Christmas celebrations the column commander of the SPDC forces refused and said that if they hold any such ceremonies rebels from the Chin National Front, CNF, could infiltrate and that is the reason such ceremonies are not allowed.
He continued to say if the chairmen and pastors deliberately hold any such Christmas feast in defiance of the order, the village chairmen and pastors will all be arrested and recruited as porters. They also threatened them that the people from southern China State will work as porters carrying things up north and people from northern Chin State will work as porters carrying stuff down south. A villager from Longlei Village in Thangtlang Township, who arrived recently in India, said that the Chin Christians are angry at the junta’s threat and they are now undecided whether to hold the Christmas celebrations and also worry about what will happen to them if they are forcibly taken as porters for celebrating the feast. The SPDC has ordered only low key celebrations ward-wise in Haka, Falam, and Tiddim in Chin State. End of recording
Supply Wood Or Pay Fine
Each block of villages in Paletwa area, Southern Chin State, were forced to supply wood of 75 cubic feet per block. The defaulter Hemapi block had to pay the fine of Ks. 60000 to Major Zaw Tun, the battalion commander of Sinletwa. The Battalion, Light Infantry Battalion LIB 538, issued an order that each of the 18 blocks in the surrounding area must saw the wood and send to him. The villagers were cheated that the wood would be used for building boats for the convenience of the public.
In October 2000, the Platoon commander Kyaw Kyaw Oo of LIB 538 ordered the villages of Pathiantlang (Upper and Lower), Sia Oo, Hemate and Hemapi to supply 150 cubic feet each as a punishment for having moved the villages two years ago.Major Zaw Tun sold the wood to traders in ThuraAi for Ks. 1000 per cubic feet, only for his own pocket. It was learnt that he issued the order after the ThuraAi traders gave him the advice to do so, and offered a good deal. In the transaction, the traders were given the right to reject wood with flaws, in which case, the villagers were told to supply “good wood.”
In remote areas like Sinletwa, not every village has people who know how to saw wood. Shortage of tools is another problem. Some villages had to hire wood men for Ks. 500 per person per day. Maung Tin Aye and Kyaw Thein of ThuraAi, Tun Win of Sinletwa, and Aung Tun Hla of Sweletwa were reported to have purchased the wood from Major Zaw Tun.
Soldiers who had a temporary camp in Sweletwa, Sinowa and Puahhmung demanded 2 persons from each block, to serve in the camp. The villagers serve in the camp as slave labours, doing whatever they were told including night sentry.
Villagers of Para, Tlopi, Hemapi, Hemate, Pintia, uppper and lower Pathiantlang, Mau, Salangpi and Arakan villages near Saiha held a meeting on September 17, and decided to report the deeds of the camp commanders to higher authorities. Each household in the whole area contributed Ks. 100 for the expenses of those who would go for the reporting to plain Burma.
UNHCR To Cut Monthly Allowance To Burmese Refugees In India
New Delhi, January 16, 2000
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in India has informed the Burmese refugees in New Delhi that it would not be possible to continue to provide monthly subsistence allowances (SA) to all refugees due to the level of UNHCR voluntary funds available for the year 2001. Although UNHCR officials have not announced when exactly the SA will be cut, it is now talking with the representatives of Burmese refugees to evolve alternatives such as loan schemes and skill-related training for the refugees.
In recent two meetings held on 14 December and 15 January, 2001 with representatives of Burmese refugees, UNHCR officials cited the reason of SA cut as low availability of financial contributions from donor countries for this year. As a result, while UNHCR (India) had received the budget allocation of US $ 1.6 millions last year, only US $ 1.2 millions is allocated for the New Delhi Office for the year 2001. Moreover, 20% of the allocated budget for this year is again to be frozen as some donor countries might not fully contribute their promised amount.
“With this in mind, the further extension of monthly subsistence allowances to all refugees would not be possible beyond UNHCR present financial commitment”, said UNHCR in a latter sent out to refugees’ representatives. Marie-Jose Canelli, Officer Incharge, signed the letter. It claimed that UNHCR (India) spent 40% of last year’s budget amounting to US dollar six hundred thousands only for the SA of Afghanistan and Burmese refugees in India.
UNHCR provides monthly Subsistence Allowance of Indian Rupees 1,400 (US $ 30) per person to most of the Burmese refugees in Delhi. There are around 800 Burmese refugees living under the mandate of UNHCR in India. The Government of India has, since late 1999, issued Residential Permit (RP) for the UNHCR-recognized Burmese refugees and the permit is to be renewed every six month.
UNHCR is now seeking the active involvement of the Burmese refugee community in activities geared towards improving their self-reliance, from planning to execution. It has advised the Burmese refugees to set up various Committees, which would work on the projected activities towards welfare and self-reliance of the refugees. It is, however, to continue to provide SA, through its one of NGO partners in Delhi, to the extremely vulnerable individuals and would continue to subsidize refugee children’s access to education.
Burmese refugee community in New Delhi responded the news with dismay and urged the UNHCR either to continue the monthly Subsistence Allowance or resettle them in the third countries such as USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“We are shocked to hear the news of SA cut. Going back to our own country means imprisonment for life and death for us”, said Elvis Ceu, an ethnic Chin national from Burma. Except some, many of the Burmese refugees are not interested in self-reliance activities as they said it would be very difficult for them to work in India. However, for UNHCR, “resettlement” is the least preferred solution as it entirely depends on those countries to accept the refugees.
Source: Mizzima News Group (www.mizzima.com)
Burmese Seeking U.S. Asylum Held In Custody, Limbo In Guam
By Fredric N. Tulsky
The San Jose Mercury News, January 23, 2001
GUAM — In the past several months, more than 700 Burmese people have fled the repressive regime back home and made their way to this small Pacific island, hoping for refuge in the United States.
Instead, they have found themselves trapped.
They got in thanks to a visa loophole designed to encourage tourism in the U.S. protectorate. They stayed because what they came for was political asylum in the mainland United States. But with a backlog in the system and no asylum officials in place on the island, the refugees are marooned,waiting months, or years, for the U.S. Justice Department to consider their pleas.
Their treatment reveals yet another way in which the U.S. asylum system fails to protect vulnerable refugees. The Mercury News previously reported that the asylum system is marred by gross disparities in the outcome of cases depending on which administrative judge hears the case, and whether the asylum seeker is represented by a lawyer.
The Burmese refugees stranded on Guam are living crowded by the dozens in small private houses. Not eligible for work permits or government aid, they survive on handouts from church groups. Most are left to pursue their asylum claims on their own, unable to afford the few local attorneys willing to help.
Thirty-eight others fared even worse: They have spent months locked up in the Guam Detention Center because they answered honestly at the airport when asked if they intended to seek asylum in the U.S. or to stay in Guam for just 15 days and return home. Under detention, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, have been separated for months. A pregnant woman was kept in isolation in a cramped, locked cell for four months because officials feared that she might be carrying tuberculosis and were afraid — because of her pregnancy — to conduct a chest X-ray.
Last week, a delegation of church officials, accompanied by Mercury News staff members and interpreters, arrived to document the conditions. The Guam governor, after meeting with representatives from Church World Service, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and local church officials, protested the situation to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials in Washington.
The INS had taken the position that the visa-waiver program rules meant they could neither release those in custody nor permit others to travel to the mainland United States. This week, INS officials said the agency has agreed to ease its stance and release the Burmese in custody in Guam, and will consider permitting them to relocate to the mainland United States while their asylum claims are pending.
The change in policy brought immediate, if cautious, reaction. “The detention of this group of people, who were not given a chance to even apply for release, was inappropriate,” said Matthew Wilch of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore, who was part of the group. “But we remain concerned about the large number of people who fled persecution and remain stranded on the island.”
A U.S. territory not much larger in area than the city of San Jose, Guam is situated thousands of miles closer to Asia than any other place where U.S. immigration law applies.
That has made it a target not just for Burmese. In recent years, Chinese smugglers trying to transport laborers from Fujian province have used Guam as a route to the United States. Guam officials fear signs of a new effort in several recent incidents in which fishing boats have pulled close to shore and left Chinese passengers to swim to the island. Two such passengers died offshore earlier this month, apparently mauled while trying to swim over the rough coral reef, and then attacked by sharks.
The Burmese first trickled into Guam, but over the past six months, the numbers swelled; hundreds of Burmese came, including doctors and engineers, pastors and teachers. They came seeking political and religious freedom and telling stories of arrest and torture for practicing Christianity or demonstrating for democracy.
They arrived with valid passports but nothing more. Since 1986, Burma, also known as Myanmar, had been among the countries whose residents did not need visas in order to visit Guam. The visa-waiver program was established to attract Asian vacationers to the island, which suffers from a double-digit unemployment rate.
Most of the Burmese got through the airport, but then found nowhere to go.
Sa Tin Lai, 32, was a pastor for the largely Christian Chin community of Burma until he fled to Guam last November. Lai said that he became politically active in college, and was involved in the 1988 student uprisings.
Lai said that he was arrested and held for 25 days and interrogated day and night about the student movement. During the questioning, he was slapped, and had a gun held to his head. He described being forced to crawl on his knees over sharp rocks, and being fed rice mixed with sand.
After his release, troubles continued for Lai, who received a degree in theology in 1999. He finally fled when the church deacon warned him that his life was in danger because he angered military officials by repairing the water-damaged church.
When he arrived in Guam, Lai had no idea where to go. A taxi took him to a local hotel. Staffers there put him in contact with the Chin Christian Fellowship, which arranged for him to stay with four other Chin asylum seekers in a one-bedroom house.
On another part of the island, a group of 41 Chin men crowd into a four-bedroom house. There is little furniture; the front room, barren, is used for prayer and for sleep. The men pass the long waiting hours outside striking a ball across the front lawn with a makeshift wooden putter into a white cup in the ground.
Thomas Mung, 25, is one of the youngest of the group. The son of a political activist, Mung said he was arrested and beaten for his own political activities as a student. He later produced a magazine, angering military officials again, and eventually fled. Like many of the Burmese refugees on Guam, Mung said that he borrowed money in the summer and paid a broker to arrange his transit out of Burma through Thailand to Guam.
“When I arrived, I said to a taxi driver, `Please tell me where the Burmese people are,’ ” Mung said. Asked what comes next, he said simply, “I cannot return to Burma.”
Mung and his housemates depend on handouts. As they traded stories near their makeshift putting green, Deacon Frank C. Tenorio of the Catholic archdiocese arrived in a truck, bearing bags of rice. He said he brings food and old furniture when he can to four houses where Burmese live; he has taken eight other Burmese into his own home.
“Men are not supposed to cry,” said the deacon, as his eyes filled with tears. “But I am so moved by them; they have been through so much pain. I wish I could do more.”
There is little doubt that Burma is a country filled with atrocities committed by the ruling military government. The annual U.S. State Department report cites an “extremely poor human rights record and longstanding severe repression of its citizens.” The military has ruled since 1962 but the situation has worsened since 1988.
Burmese people — particularly those from the certain ethnic groups – have been subject to arrest, rape, even death at the hands of military officers, the State Department reports.
As a result, Burmese asylum seekers have fared far better than most once reaching U.S. territory. Nationwide, Justice Department statistics analyzed by the Mercury News show, about 55 percent of Burmese applicants won their asylum cases from 1995 through 1999 — a success rate more than twice that of applicants from other countries. The law, in accordance with international convention, offers asylum for people who have a well-founded fear of persecution if sent back home, based on their race, religion, national origin, membership in a social group or because of their political opinion.
Neither asylum officers nor immigration judges are based in Guam, leaving the department struggling to keep up with the growing number of asylum seekers.
More than 500 asylum applicants have not yet had hearings, and scores more Burmese have not yet submitted their asylum applications. One woman, 23, said she fled her homeland after she was threatened with military arrest because of her political activism; she arrived in Guam in 1998, and is still waiting for a hearing before an asylum officer.
None of the scores of asylum seekers interviewed outside of custody last week had lawyers. “Nobody can afford one,” said Dan Baumwang, an engineer and member of the Christian Kachin ethnic minority, who fled Burma last year. “Many thought when they got here they were finished.’
Baumwang, who was educated in London, lives with 23 other Kachin people in two adjoining two-bedroom apartments. On a nail on his wall are the tales of seven compatriots, written in their own hands, in their own language.
He provides them copies of the asylum application, and translates their statements. Baumwang said he had not even suggested to the asylum seekers that they should try to find any documentation to support their testimony; they were afraid to take any political or religious materials with them.
“I don’t know how they would get such things,” he said.
Under the tourism promotion program, most of the Burmese refugees were waived through the airport when they arrived. The INS officer in charge of Guam, David Johnston, said that he instructed the airport inspectors not to profile arriving foreign citizens based on ethnicity if they had valid passports.
But several dozen were stopped because they stood out, such as the 21 Burmese who arrived on the same flight on Oct. 3. Although they did not know each other, a broker had arranged their passage together.
The group was sent for detailed questioning by airport inspectors. One after another, they said freely that they were hoping to apply for asylum and stay in the United States. Their honesty was costly. They were sent to jail.
Johnston said the regulations gave him no choice: Burmese who did not intend to return home within the 15-day limit of the visa-waiver program were violating the rule and had to sit in custody until they were granted asylum by an administrative immigration judge.
They are held at the Guam Detention Center, where INS detainees make up roughly half the prison population, said the warden, Francisco Cristosomo. The men live in two large, air-conditioned barracks built in 1999 in response to a flood of Chinese boat people.
A third barracks sits empty. It was built to house women, but with just 11 Chinese and six Burmese women in custody, prison officials said it is more efficient to hold them in jail cells. They live with the local prison inmates, sometimes as many as four to a cell the size of a walk-in closet.
One of the women is an ethnic Chin, whose father was a Christian pastor. She said she was arrested in Burma in 1993 after she spoke against the government within earshot of an army officer. She said the officer then beat and raped her. She fled to India but last year, when she no longer felt safe there, she returned to Burma.
She continued her political activity and heard that the military officer was after her once again, so she fled to Guam. When she arrived, she tested positive for tuberculosis in a skin test. Because she was pregnant, officials were afraid to take an X-ray. Instead, they kept her in isolation.
But when the church group toured the prison last week and found the woman, they were alarmed by the effect of months of isolation. The Rev. Jerry Elmore, pastor of the local University Baptist Church, offered to sponsor the woman himself, so she could be released from custody to his care.
Officials balked. But a day later, she was released and given a chest X-ray. “I am happier,” she told a reporter who toured the facility the following day. “But I still feel weak and afraid in this place.”
In October, Robert A. Underwood, the island’s non-voting congressional representative, asked INS officials to drop Burma from the visa-waiver program. He said he feared that the Burmese asylum-seekers could cause the entire program to be curtailed. Citing “law enforcement and national security interests,” the Justice Department dropped Burma from the program as of Jan. 10.
That change is what made officials more receptive to releasing the Burmese refugees already on Guam, said Wilch, the Lutheran advocate for asylum seekers. With Burma off the program, he said, the INS could release the asylum-seekers without worrying that Guam would become a magnet.
`It worked out perfectly in terms of timing for the people there,” said Wilch. But, he added, “that still leaves one unanswered concern: What about the people who are still in Burma? We have no answer for that.”
Ecumenical Group Led By Church World Service Secures The Release Of Asylum Seekers From Burma
January 30, 2001, NEW YORK CITY – An ecumenical group composed of staff from the Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Chin Freedom Coalition traveled to Guam the week of January 15 to advocate for the release of 39 asylum seekers from Burma detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The ecumenical group worked with the Governor of Guam, the INS and churches already supporting the asylum seekers from Burma to secure their release, which began Monday, January 29.
The 39 asylum seekers of Chin ethnicity fled their country to escape religious persecution and ethnic cleansing by the military regime of Myanmar (also known as Burma). For the past six months, they have been detained by the Department of Corrections since their arrival in Guam.
“The compelling nature of their claims is what brought me here,” explained Matt Wilch director for immigration and asylum concerns at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “So far, the grant rate of this group is 95%. These are people fleeing torture, rape, and scorched earth tactics against their communities all because they insist on practicing their Christian faith and promoting democratic ideals. They deserve our protection and quick relief.”
The ecumenical group toured the prison where the 39 asylum seekers were detained, made pastoral visits to their quarters, visited other asylum seekers living on the island and met with ethnic organizations working for the release of the detainees. “We feel that these refugees face unnecessary hurdles in the asylum process,” remarked Rev. Joan Maruskin, Washington Representative for Church World Service. “They live in terribly cramped conditions and wait for months to have their claims adjudicated by the INS. We want to bring these problems to light and help the refugees find solutions which will lead to their safety and ability to reestablish their lives.”
The delegation began its efforts on Guam by meeting with the church groups who support the more than 800 asylum seekers from Burma already living on the island while they await the adjudication of their claims. Only two lawyers are available to process the claims of asylum seekers on Guam, so the wait is long. A coalition of Protestant and Catholic groups has provided the refugees with food, shelter, clothing and other assistance as they go through the asylum process.
Delegates met with the Governor of Guam, Mr. Carl T.C. Gutierrez, on January 18 to enlist his support for the refugees’ release. The Governor commended the group’s efforts and the efforts of Guam’s church groups to support the refugees. He then sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service headquarters to ask for the group’s release to the community and quick adjudication of their asylum claims.
The ecumenical delegation included Rev. Maruskin, Helen Morris and Adijatu Abiose, Esq. of Church World Service; Matt Wilch of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Zo T. Hmung of Chin Freedom Coalition; and Dr. Donoso Escobar of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Rev. Euford from the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention.
Contact: Church World Service (212) 870-3153 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (410) 230-2791 01/30/01
THE CHIN IDENTITY CRISIS
By Richard Zatu
Can you identify a Chin national in the streets of Yangon, Mandalay or elsewhere? Chances are that you can’t. However, you’ll be able, most of the time, to tell an Indian or a Chinese by the colour of his skin. But it is difficult, sometimes impossible, to differentiate other racial groups of Myanmar from another by appearance since we all have similar skin colour and roughly the same body build.
One way to know a certain national is by the clothes he wears. Some people will know a Chin national by the “Chin” longyi, htamein or jacket he puts on or the “Chin” Shan bag slinging over his shoulders or the “Chin” tie in his neck. But this could be deceptive for anyone can buy these and wear them. A pair of trousers is more common among the Chins than other ethnic groups in our country. But this is not an accurate or proper way of finding out who is a Chin. More and more Chins, especially government employees, are clad in the Burmese pasoe and taikpon and an increasing number of people in Myanmar are putting on a pair of long pants. This means that you cannot identify a Chin national, or any other nationals for that matter, with the clothes on their backs. But it is often one of the many ways by which to recognize a racial group.
Older Chin males have the lob of their ears perforated for wearing an earring. This was one good way of identifying a Chin. But younger Chins have stopped the practice. So perforated ears is no longer a sign of our Chinness.
The identification marks mentioned above are mostly physical and are therefore easily recognizable. But there are many other ways in which the Chin people could be identified.
For example, a good way to recognize a Chin is by hearing someone speaks one of the many Chin dialects. But of course there’s always an exception to the rule. People of other racial groups may also speak Chin if they had lived in Chin State long enough.
Still another method to find out the identity of a Chin is by hearing someone speak Burmese or English with a Chin accent. But one has to be familiar with the accent first.
One sure way to know a Chin is to understand that he has a Chin name since no other racial group will adopt one. But one has to be familiar with Chin names first.
Although an overwhelming majority of the Chin people are Christians, no knowledgeable person ever identify a people by faith. And it will be impossible to know a person’s faith unless you ask him and he tells you. But the knowledge of the faith of a person by asking or by any other ways often helps other persons to know the former’s identity.
Of course there are many more ways of identifying a Chin or members of other tribal groups – like the food he eats, the songs he sings, the customs he is required to follow. But these are not easily perceived unless one interacts or mixed with the people in question.
All these means that the Chin person is difficult to recognize because he has little identifications marks.
So if you meet a Chin young man with a Burmese name wearing a pasoe and a taikpon or a T shirt and a jean and doesn’t know any Chin dialect and speaks to you in perfect Burmese or in English with a Burmese accent, you won’t be able to know that the young man you are speaking to is a Chin. Such young men and women can be seen everywhere.
The above mentioned examples are not the only means by which people can recognize a Chin or other racial groups. If a certain ethnic group is well represented in the government, the military, the professions, business, in music or even in sports, their presence will still be felt and they will still be visible among other racial groups. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Chin people. Time was when there were Chin ministers of government, Chin Ambassadors, Chin high ranking military officers, well-known Chin boxers, footballers, tennis players. But this is history now. We can say we are no longer as visible as before.
Globalization makes the countries of the world more and more like each other in every respect. Larger economies and more advanced civilizations are encroaching upon other smaller economies and less developed civilizations. States and cultures are unable or unwilling to stem the tide.
Some languages like English and French, especially English, have mostly replaced native tongues of a large number of nations. It has become the lingua franca of many countries and the second language of many more others. It has become the language of diplomacy, commerce and science. English has become the international language of choice. This is a phenomenon in which internationalization threatens other cultures and identities.
Similarly and more easily, larger population and more advanced culture and language within a single country can absorb or edge out smaller ones. Myanmar is no exception. Most of our brethren in Myanmar have now the same faith, the same mode of dress with the Burmese majority, the same culture and have now largely adopted Burmese language and names. So they are more or less like the Burmese and have mostly lost their identity.
Compared to other racial groups in our country, we might say that the Chin people still could retain much of their identity. We can say this because, unlike other states, Chin State is the only state in Myanmar where nearly all its inhabitants are the people that bears the name of the state. Unlike other states and divisions, it is the only state where most of its inhabitants are Christians. Unlike other states, it is the state where Burmese is not widely spoken. Unlike other states, with the exception of Kachin State, it is where the ethnic names as opposed to Burmese ones are given widely. Unlike other states or divisions, it is the state where western (make this international) attire as opposed to Burmese dress is most widely worn.
But in recent past, the Chin people, like our brethren before us, came in droves to live and settle down in Yangon, Mandalay, or elsewhere. Like our brethren we have and will be adopting the cultures, languages, and mode of dress of the Burmese majority. The Chin young men and women have already and are going to marry outside of their race since they will be mixing with people of other ethnic groups. Chances are that their children will have non-Chin names and will speak no Chin. They will have nothing to do with the Chins. They will be assimilated with others, and we will be assimilated. This is a natural process. We can’t stem the tide.
In this way we as a people will lose much of our identity in the not-too-distant future if the present trend continues. And the trend is likely to continue. It is beyond our control. Or is it? Source: “Thinking about Christianity and the Chins in Myanmar”, Yangon, March 1999, Pp 92 – 94.
US Refugee Policy Should Include Persecuted Christians in Annual Admissions
Persecuted Karen, Karenni, and Chin Christians Not Allowed
Refugee resettlement embodies America’s humanitarian tradition. In a time of increasing tension and conflict, it is essential that America’s door remains open to victims of violence and intolerance who have no other place to go.
The legal basis of the refugee admissions program is the Refugee Act of 1980, which defines a refugee in words that closely track those of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: “a refugee is a person who is outside his/her country and is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of a well-founded fear that he/she will be persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The Act also allows the President to extend this definition to certain persons still resident in countries he specifies.
Unfortunately, several persecuted communities in Burma with strong historical ties to the U.S. have been overlooked by this policy. The Karen, Karenni, and Chin people are systematically persecuted by the Burmese military government. A very high percentage of these people are Christian and are oppressed because of their ethnicity and faith. These people were our allies in the 2nd World War and fought side by side with our soldiers to repel the Axis forces. They were promised by the British that they would have their own homeland after the war, but it never happened. After the war the Burmese majority–who sided with the Axis–engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing that continues to this day. The situation deteriorated greatly in 1988 when the military took over the government. The Karen, Karenni, and Chin have been fighting for survival for nearly fifty years, and could be considered the “forgotten people.”
Currently more than 100,000 Karen, Karenni, and Chin men, women, and children live in refugee camps in Thailand and India. Thousands more are internally displaced in the Burmese jungle. These internally displaced individuals are cutoff from outside assistance and live one step ahead of roving Burmese soldiers.
In FY 1998 the ceiling for refugee admissions from East Asia was 14,000. In the first seven months of that year, some 4,400 refugees arrived in the U.S., only 86 were from Burma. Most of these were ethnic Burmese.
In FY 1999, 10,204 refugees entered the United States from East Asia. The majority of FY 1999 admissions were from Vietnam. Again, most, if not all the Burma admissions were ethnic Burmese.
Time for Change
It is time for the United States to remember our forgotten allies and specifically include the Karen, Karenni, and Chin refugees and displaced persons in the annual admissions from East Asia.
Please Contact your Congressional Representatives in Washington today.
Source: Christian Freedom International Website
THE CHINS IN THE EYES OF FOREIGNERS
Rev. Dr. Chum Awi
The genealogy of the Chin, according to the linguists, stems from Sino- Tibetan which is one out of three language groups, i.e., Altaic, Indo-European, and Austro-Asiatic. Sino-Tibetan gave birth to Tibeto- Burman which in turn gave birth to Tibetan, Yi( Lolo ), Pui( Minchia), TuChia, Hani( Woni), Lisu, Lahu, Nasi(Moso), Chingpo(Kachin), Chiang( Chin), Nu, and Tulung ( see Encyclopedia Britanica). Early writers, both British and Americans, mentioned the name of the Chins as Khang, Khiang or whatsoever. The words Chin, Chiang or Khiang were romanization of the original Chinese word ” Yin.”
The Chins are found in India, Bangladesh, and in Burma. There are Chins who live in plain areas and those who live on mountains have a word “zo” to describe places which are high and cold. Some Chins are propagating “zo-mi” as their original name. In fact, the genetic word “Chin” comes from the Chinese word “Yin” which means man. In the Pinyin romanization, “Yin” becomes ” Chin.” Thus, we have China as the country of the Yin people. culturally and traditionally, the Chins have many kinds of similarities with the Chinese. Sine 1889, the year in which the British empire annexed the Chin Hill, there were British political officers and American missionaries who have closely worked for the Chins. Some of these officers have remarks on the culture, way of life, attitude, habits, body structure, etc., of the Chins.
The ”Chin today are widespread in several other countries mainly because of their ill – feeling against the prevailing military rulers. It is necessary to introduce the Chins to other people for the purpose of mutual understanding and interpersonal relationship. To serve this purpose, this article depicts the remarks made by the British political officers and the American missionaries. The first person who made a remark on the Chins was Rev. Arthur Carson who lived and worked for the Asho- Chin in Thayer Myo. In his letter dated January 19, 1888 to the headquarters office of the Baptists in the United States of America, he wrote: There are so many dialects that we can never hope to know and use them all. Our hopes for the future are high. We find them naturally a superior people to the Burmans. They are not quarrelsome, may easily be taught to be independent and manly, and has a sense of gratitude for favors received. They have good mind and hearts capable of great love. Yet, they are just as capable as enmities as of friendships. The greatest evil we will have to meet among them is temperance.
A British medical officer Major Newland who himself married a Chin woman in Hakha town wrote a book called A Practical Handbook of Lai Dialect ( 1895). In his book he wrote: A Chin id manly and independent fellow. He has not the cringing, fawning habits of his neighbours the Burmans . He always considers himself the equal of anyone. This independent spirit is the only favorable quality of a Chin. He would be a fine fellow but for his drinking habits. Carey and Tuck, who expedited the Chin Hills, wrote volumes of book which they entitle The Chin Hills ( 1896). In their entitled one can find the following verses:
The slow speech, the serious manner, the respect of birth and the knowledge of pedigrees, the duty of revenge, the taste for and the treacherous method of hospitality, the clannish feeling, the vice of avarice, the filthy state of the body, mutual distrust, impatience under control, the want of power of combination and the continued effort, arrogance in victory, speedy discouragement and panic in defeat . . . The Chin Hills are peopled by many clans and communities, calling themselves to be distinct and superior origin . . . Owning firstly to the want of a written language and secondly to the intermiable inter-village warfare, has split up and resulted in Babel of tongues, a variety of customs, and a diversity of modes of living . . . Except in the prosecution of warfare, robbery is practically unknown. A.S. Reid in his book Chin -Lushai land observed the culture of the Chins as:
Owning no central authority, possessing no written language, obeying but the verbal mandates of the chiefs, Hospitable and affectionate in their homes unsparing of age and sex while on war path; Untutored as the remotest races in central Africa, and yet endowed with an intelligence. Rev. Dr East, a medical missionary to the Chin in the 1890s, called the Chins as ” splendid people.” His remarks is bases on what he found the existence of God in the hearts, words, and attitudes of the Chins. His diary was compiled in a book form and called it Burma Manuscripts (1910). He wrote: I was led to believe that these people had no knowledge God, no word of love, no word of home. However, I could not accept that ideas as I very thoroughly believe in racial unity and that God made all man out of one blood. It is a certainty that the Chins believe in the God of Heaven as Creator. This knowledge is universal among them.
Rev. Dr Strait, an American Baptist missionary to the Chins stationing in Hakha, did not accept the idea that the Chins are so civilized. Rather. he praised the social system of the Chins as well as the skills of women who could weave a high quality silk showls, garments etc., still keeps the Chins silk showls as a valuable thing of the family. Rev Dr J.H Cope, who served the Lord for the Chins associating with the British administrators during 1908 till 1938, mentioned that the Chins have been living in a higher civilization in the past. He indicated that the living situation on the hills makes constant deterioration of the prevailing culture. He wrote a book called Awakening of the Northern Chins. In his book he wrote:
There are evidences that these people once had a higher civilization. This is seen from the fact that they are completely clothed and do not appear ever to have been headhunters or cannibals. There is even a tradition of a written language. They differ from many hill tribes in that violent crime is rare polygamy not very common, women more respected, and warfare carried on less brutally than in many hill districts . . . After reaching the hills they quickly spread out in little villages in the narrow valley and many dialects soon developed.
Rev. Sowards, Secretary of American ( Burma) Baptist Missionary Society during 1950s prophesized that the Chins will make great contributions to the whole of Burma. He played a leading role in the forming of Zomi( Chin) Baptist Convention and a theological in 1953. School and Hospitals opened for the Chins by British governors and American missionaries opened the eyes of the Chins in many ways. The British administrators recruited the Chins for their army because they knew that they were faithful and dutiful. Today, the Chins are working hard for their seif identity, self- determination, self- dependency, and self-reliance. The only thing that they need to gain the above is freedom which can bring chance for them.
Back Cover Poem
Rhododendron Land Awakened
Salai Kipp Kho Lian
Along the mountainous stretches of the Western Yoma,
And the surrounding vast lowland valleys;
Along the Manipur and the Chindwin rivers,
Tis the homeland of the Chin people.
Truth and Freedom do we treasure,
Loyalty and Courage our trademark;
Yea, truly, we are one stock of people-offspring of the same family.
Firmly upholding our traditional stance for peace,
and with renewed shall we march forward;
Towards a prosperous new land we have yet to see.
The sacred ‘Rih’ lake symbolizes our heart,
But life remains as rough as the Manipur river;
Where cries of suffering have never ceased.
The river Manipur unleashed-gushed into the tranquil ‘Rih’,
The resulting angry storm and its thunderous roar;
And the new generation is born;
Behold a land of peace and prosperity!
Salai Kipp Kho LianCo-Translated by Liana Suantak from original Burmese version
1. Write to your MP, Congressman and Senator Expressing your concern at reports of the persecution of the Chin people in Burma.
2. Write Indian and Mizoram governments urging the authorities to ensure the safety and protection of all ethnic Chin from Burma in Mizoram.
3. Urge the Indian government to allow the United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR access to Mizoram.
How you can help:
Chin Human Rights Organization depends on concerned people like you. Make your check payable to Chin Human Rights Organization and you will receive Rhododendron Human Rights News letter. Help CHRO continue to play a lead role in documenting human rights situation in Chinland and Western part of Burma.
Chin Human Rights Organization
50 Bell Street N # 2
Ottawa, ON K1R 7C7
BURMESE REFUGEES IN INDIA TO GO HUNGRY
New Delhi, 1 February 2001: Fear of possible starvation looms among Burmese refugees in India after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Office in New Delhi announced in mid January that it will stop assisting them with monthly subsistence allowance of Rs.1400 per person, about $US30.
The announcement, which the refugees responded with great disappointment, came with the cited reason of ” the low availability of UNHCR budget allocation for its mission office in New Delhi for the year 2001resulting from scaling down of financial contributions by potential donor countries”.
Although the refugees are informed that the termination of Subsistence Allowance payment will come into effect in April 2001, there are some refugees such as Salai Aung Cin Thang who had already been terminated his allowance. The UNHCR will, however, continue to assist those extremely vulnerable individuals such as single women and children.
More than 800 Burmese nationals are registered refugees under the mandate of UNHCR in New Delhi. The number constitutes only a few in an estimated 40,000-50,000 Burmese refugees in India who could manage to come to the capital city to claim UNHCR’s person of concern status. Most refugees are ethnic Chin from western Burma who fled serious human rights abuses including forced labor, rape, summary killing and religious persecution by the military regime in their home country. They are mostly Christians and have been subject to religious and racial persecution by the military junta, which came to power in a bloody coup in 1988.
Concentrated mainly in the western suburban area of New Delhi, the refugees live in cheap-rented accommodations from the local landlords. They have no other means of supporting themselves and are largely dependent on humanitarian assistance provided by UNHCR to cover their basic needs such as food and shelter. The Government of India does not recognize them as refugees, though it has issued residential permit to those already recognized by UNHCR, which is to be extended every 6 months.
Locked between persecution at home and poverty in their country of asylum, the refugees have been over the years, faced with extreme social proble