VOL.IV No.IV JULY-AUGUST 2001
– A Female Pastor Sentenced For Two Years With Hard Labour In Haka
– A Village’s Dream To Solve Drinking Water Problems Ruined
– Cross-border Chin traders Robbed and Beaten up By Burmese Soldiers
– A Chin Farmer Badly Beaten Up
– Civilian in Southern Chinland forced to work at the Army Camp
– Burma’s ethnic refugees in Indian border get no help
LETTER & PRESS RELEASE
– Press Release From Chin
– Urgent Action Called By Amnesty International
– Democracy Movement Towards Federal Union
– The Role of UNLD in the Struggle for Democracy and Federalism in Burma By Dr. Lian H. Sakhong (Ph.D. Uppsala University)
We are happy to inform you that with your supports, the financial assistance from National Endowment for Democracy, Open Society Institute, Associate to Develop Democracy in Burma, Inter Pares and the committed workers of Chin Human Rights Organization CHRO have made the Rhododendron fruitful. We received several letters and comments both criticism and praise about the work of CHRO and the Rhododendron in the past year. We treasure your comments, feedback, ideas and advice.
Despite the hostile environment and under the extremely dangerous situation, CHRO has been relentlessly documenting human rights situation sometimes with the ultimate sacrifice. In April 1998, one of our field monitors Mr. Michael Enzapau was shot dead while collecting human rights information from the villagers. Again, in June 200, another field worker, Mr. Zothang was caught by the Burmese army while interviewing victims of human rights violations and shot to dead on the spot along with two villagers.
Yet, because of the dedication and relentless efforts of the CHRO team, the Chin Human Rights Organization becomes one of the most reliable sources of human rights documentation organization that operate in Burma. CHRO is a contributor to the International Work Groups for Indigenous Peoples’ year book. Furthermore, both the 1999 and 2000 United States, Department of State Annual Report of International Religious Freedom, which designated Burma as Country of Particular Concern, based most of its findings on CHRO’ reports. CHRO was also one of the primary sources used by the United States, Department of State in its Annual Human Rights Report of 1999 and 2000. CHRO’s reports were also cited in the International Labour Organization ( ILO ) reports, which followed the imposition of punitive sanctions by the organization against Burma.
In its international campaign for promotion of human rights and democracy in Burma, CHRO is regularly attending the United Nations Human Rights Commission Sessions and the UN working Groups on Indigenous Peoples sessions in Geneva, where it deliberates issues of human rights and democratic concerns.
While human rights situations in Chinland have steadily deteriorated under the Burmese military junta, CHRO has played an important role in highlighting current human rights situation and advocating for the oppressed people of Chinland in the international arena. We believe that to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in the ongoing work of CHRO, it needs greater participation of the Chin people and those who support our cause from around the world who share common concern for the human rights of our people. Thank you.
Salai BawiLian Mang
Chin Human Rights Organization
A Female Pastor Sentenced For Two Years With Hard Labour In Haka CHRO
Ottawa, July 10, 2001
The Chin Human Rights Organization CHRO received a report that a female pastor Ms. Gracy of Rinpi Baptist church from central Chinland was sentenced by Chin State court for two years with hard labour on 6 July 2001 in Haka, the capital of Chin State. Justice system in Burma is completely controlled by the ruling military junta.
Pastor Gracy was arrested by the Burmese soldiers on February 13 this year. She was accused of supporting the Chin National Front. Since her arrest, she has been detained in Haka army camp, where prison conditions are extremely severe, inadequate and precarious for a woman prisoner.
Pastor Gracy will soon be sent to Kalaywa hard labour camp in Sagaing division, where her brother Pu Hoi Mang is now serving two years prison term with hard labour.
In Chin State, the ruling military regime State Peace and Development Council ( SPDC ) publicly declared that Christian pastors are their number one enemy, accusing them of pro-colonialist white face.
About 90% of Chins are Christian and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin State. For the past two years, the United States Department of State designated Burma as country of particular concern violating religious freedom.
A Village’s Dream To Solve Drinking Water Problems Ruined
SPDC Soldiers Looted 23,500 Kyats from Aru villagers
Lieutenant Kyaw Kyaw Naing of Burmese army LIB ( 274 ) and his troops has looted 23,500 Kyats from 32 year-old Mr. Leitho ( name changed ) and friends at Aru village, Matupi township of Southern Chinland on 19th July 2001. Mr. Leitho said that there is no sufficient drinking water in Aru village. Thus, the villagers contributed money to buy water pipes to drain water from the near by stream. But the money they contributed was not still sufficient to buy the water pipe. The villagers then decided to buy cattle with the money they contributed and sell them to Mizoram hoping that they will be able to buy the water pipe with the proceeds.
In that way the villagers bought 4 mithuns and Mr. Leitho and friends were asked to sell the cattle to Mizoram State of India, which is 5-days journey on foot. On 17th July 2001, Mr. Leitho and friends were stopped on the way between Sabawngte and Sabawngpi village by Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing and his troops and demanded from them 20,000 Kyats. Athough Mr. Leitho and friends explained to the Lieutenant the whole situation that they are not mere traders and that they have no personal belongings but only that of the villagers’ contributions for buying water pipe for their village.
Ignoring their explanation, Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing sent all the cattles to Sabawngte army camp. He threatened them that if they refused to pay 20, 000 Kyats a ransom, he would arrest them and confiscate all the cattle. Intimidated, Mr. Leitho and his friends went back to Sabawngpi village. On 19th July 2001, Mr. Leitho and friends came back to Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing to pay 20, 000 Kyats. Then, Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing demanded again that besides 20, 000 kyats, Mr. Leitho and friends have to pay him a goat or 3, 500 Kyats to buy a goat. Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing said that he would seize all the cattle and arrest them all if they failed to meet his demands.
Thus, Mr. Leitho and friends paid another 23, 500 Kyats to Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing on 19th July 2001. Mr. Leitho said that their dreams of solving drinking water crisis in the village is ruined.
Cross-border Chin traders Robbed and Beaten up By Burmese Soldiers
On 6 June 2001, Mr. Pa Hmung ( Name changed ) from Tlangte village from Central Chinland and ten other traders left from Thantlang for Indian borders to sell 5 television sets and other goods to the northeastern State of Mizoram, India. As soon as they left the town, three Burmese soldiers with guns from Light Infantry Battalion LIB 269, Thantlang army camp stopped them. After that, one of the traders named Mr. Nawl Ceu, 56 year old, was punched and kicked by the three soldiers without saying anything. When other traders begged the soldiers to stop the beatings, the Burmese soldiers demanded 50, 000 Kyats from the traders. The soldiers threatened that all the goods will be confiscated if the traders refuse to pay their demand. Frightened, the traders paid 50, 000 Kyats to the soldiers.
Mr. Pa Hmung reported this incident to CHRO on 10th July, 2001. He said that even though he and his fellow traders do not know the name and ranks of the soldiers, they were sure that the soldiers were from LIB 269 Thantlang army camp.
A Chin Farmer Badly Beaten Up
A 26 year old Chin villager was hospitalized after being badly beaten up by Lt. Kyi Lin Htin, police commander of Hriphi police post. A farmer from Hriphi village, Thantlang township of central Chinland, Mr. Ral Bik was beaten for failure to guard the police camp on the night of June 3, 2001.
He was beaten with a thick wooden stick till he collapsed and blood started to spurt profusely from his mouth and ears. His condition was so critical that he had to be hospitalized at Thantlang town, 20 miles away from the village. Lt. Kyi Lin Htin, known for this ill-treatment of the villagers, routinely demand cillivians to guard the police camp every night. Even church leaders from various denominations and elderly people were forced to perform the night watch duty at the police camp. In additiion, the villagers were forced to contribute ration for the police camp.
Lt. Kyi Lin Htin had also badly beaten up other villagers for not being attentive during their night watch duty. Mr. Hmung Dun 40 year old was beaten up on the night of 24th June 2001. Mr. Hreng Cem, 20-year old was also beaten up on 19th June 2001. Mr. Ro Lian Ceu 20 year old was beaten up on the night of 29th June 2001.
Civilian in Southern Chinland forced to work at the Army Camp
CHRO received and confirmed the following information from Mr. Thang Cin, 55 year old farmer from Lungcawipi village, Matupi towship of Chin state. In the first week of June 2001 Lieutenant Kyaw Kyaw Naing of Light Infantry Battalion LIB 274 from Sabawngte army camp asked village headmen from Lungcawipi, Hlungmang, and Darling to attend a meeting on June 9 at Sabawngte army camp. He warned the villages headmen that any one who fail to attend the meeting will face revere punishment.
In the meeting, Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing issued an order for the villagers. The order includes 5 points that the villagers must obey without fail. To rebuild the fence of Sabawngte army camp. Villagers are not allowed to carry their gun outside of the village. Those who carry their gun outside of the village will be shot. To keep the record of visitors or guest from other villages. Villagers must obtain permission from the headman when they want to travel. Any guest who does not have permit from the headman shall report to the army camp.
Lt. Kyaw Kyaw Naing warned the villagers that if any villagers fail to comply the above order, the village must be burnt by the army. According to order number one, the villagers from Lungcawipi, Hlungmang, and Darling were forced to work from June 11, 2001. Villagers were forced to work from dawn to dark. Even though, the beginning of monsoon-the month of June- is the busiest time for villagers to work in their farm, they have to abandon their farm work and repair the fence of the army camp. The villagers have to bring their own food and tools to work at the army camp.
Burma’s ethnic refugees in Indian border get no help
Kaki Village (Indo-Burma border), August 7, 2001
Mizzima News Group
A large number of Arakanese refugees who fled from Burmese military’s repressive measures have been living silently in the Indo-Burma border areas in Mizoram State of India without receiving assistance from outside world. Most of them came from Arakanese villages of Palatwa Township in western Burma and they have been scattering along the Mizoram-Burma border and Bangladesh-Mizoram-Burma border areas since 1988.
Without any assistance and not getting even awareness on their existence in these remote areas, the Arakanese refugees are facing enormous survival problems and many have died over the years due to lack of basic medicines and food.
There are at least five Arakanese “refugee” villages in Mizoram (such as Kaki, Laung Machu, Duduswara, Laungatoan, Hmawngbuchhuah) along the border areas with Burma and upto 400 families live in a village. While the State government has failed to recognize them as “refugees”, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Office in New Delhi does not cover its actions in this north eastern state of India.
Transport and communication even to the nearest Lawngtlai town in southern Mizoram is very difficult due to porous terrains. The lack of medicines, doctors and food has made many refugees die every year in winter and rainy seasons. The Arakanese are one of the ethnic nationalities of Burma and the refugees alleged that they were the victims of dictatorial and repressive actions of the Burmese military government, now known as State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Many refugees recall their bitter experiences of forced labour, forced porter, forced tax-collection, rape and various arbitrary abuses of the Burmese soldiers in their native villages in Arakan State.
“We fled our villages when we could no longer bear the repression of the Burmese army. But, since we arrived this area (refugee village), we have been facing several problems. We do not have proper shelter and work to survive. We don’t have any land to farm “, said a refugee who left his village (Poan Nyinn Wa village) in Arakan border in 1989.
According to him, despite the International Labor Organization’s pressure on the Burmese regime to end the use of forced labor in the country, the Burmese army continues to practice forced labor in a large scale in remote villages in northern Arakan State.
Although they yearn for going back to their homes in Burma, they said they couldn’t do so as the human rights abuses of the Burmese army continue unabated inside the country. Burmese government last year reportedly asked these refugees to come back but the refugees are not willing until their life is guaranteed in Burma.
LETTERS & PRESS RELEASES
Statement regarding the imposition of harsh sentence on Pastor Gracy in Chin State, Burma
Date: July 19, 2001
For Immediate release
We, the undersigned Chin women residing in various parts of the world, are deeply shocked and disturbed by yet another arrest, imprisonment and unjustified sentencing of Ms. Grace, a woman Pastor of Rinpi Baptist Church, Chin State, to two years imprisonment with hard labor by the Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council.
27 year-old Ms Grace was arrested on February 13, 2001 by the Burmese army on unjustifiable allegations that she simpathized and supported members of the Chin National Front. For months, she was detained in Haka army camp, where there is no adequate and separate prison facilities for women. Reports say that Pastor Gracy had been sent to Kalewa Hard Labor Camp on July 17,2001 where she will serve her two-year sentence with hard labor.
We are deeply concerned about the fate of Pastor Gracy in prison. We vehemently condemn and deplore this atrocious and inhuman sentence imposed on her. The arrest of Pastor Gracy is a sheer intent of the Burmese military to target Christian leader for false accusations to discourage Chin Christians from freely practicing their faith.
The verdict to convict Pastor Gracy of two-year rigorous imprisonment has been reached by a highly non-independent court, which acts at the helm of the Burmese junta. The denial of Pastor Gracy of her right to a fair and impartial trial, and of her civil rights constitute gross violations under Burma’s international human rights obligations particularly, Convention on Elimination of All kinds of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which it ratified. We express our solidarity with Pastor Gracy and other Chin women who are victims of violations and suppression by the Burmese military junta.
We urge the Burmese military junta, State Peace and Development Council:
To immediately and unconditionally release Pastor Gracy
To respect human rights of Chin women
To stop committing atrocities against Chin women
To stop persecuting Chin Christians
Undersign Women groups:
1. Women Department ( Chin Human Rights Organization )
2. Chin Women Organization ( CWO, New Delhi, India )
3. Women Department ( Chin Baptist Mission Church, Washington D C, USA)
4. Women Department ( Dallas Chin Baptist Church, Texas, USA)
5. Women Department ( Chin Community Church, Indianapolis, USA)
6. Women Department ( Chin Christian Fellowship, New Delhi, India)
7. Chin Women Group ( Sweden )
8. Chin Women Group ( Australia )
9. Chin Women Group ( Ottawa Chin Christian Fellowship, Canada )
Urgent Action Called By Amnesty International
PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 16/020/2001
UA 187/01 Fear of torture or ill-treatment / health concern 26 July 2001
MYANMAR Pastor Gracy [f], aged 27
Pastor Gracy, a 27-year-old political prisoner who is reportedly in poor health, has been transferred to a hard labour camp where conditions are particularly severe. Amnesty International is concerned for her safety and wellbeing.
On 18 July Pastor Gracy was transferred to Mawlaik-Kalay Akyin Htawng labour camp near Kalaymyo in Sagaing Division, where conditions are said to be extremely harsh. Pastor Gracy, who is a member of the Chin ethnic minority, had been sentenced to two years’ hard labour on 6 July by a court in Haka, the capital of the Chin State. She was found guilty of having provided accommodation to the Chin National Front (CNF), a Chin armed opposition group fighting the central Myanmar government. Amnesty International is concerned that she did not receive a fair trial.
Pastor Gracy was initially arrested on 13 February. She had been detained at Haka army camp, where there are believed to be no separate facilities for women. In May, she was reported to be in poor health.
Pastor Gracy, who studied theology at the Chin Christian College in Haka, is the minister of Rinpi Baptist Church in central Chin State. Ninety percent of the Chin people, who inhabit the Chin State and neighbouring Sagaing Division in the far west of Myanmar, are Christian. They are frequently persecuted by the mostly Buddhist, ethnic Burman authorities. Chin pastors have reportedly been arrested, crosses and churches destroyed, and Christian civilians subjected to forced labour.
Pastor Gracy’s elder brother Pu Hoi Mang was sentenced to two years’ hard labour last year for supporting the CNF. He is also serving his sentence at Mawlaik-Kalay prison camp. He and pastor Gracy are the only known political prisoners to be held in hard labour camps.
There are dozens of prison labour camps in Myanmar, where the vast majority of labourers are convicted criminals. Conditions vary considerably, but some camps are particularly severe, and scores of prisoners are known to have died of treatable diseases such as malaria. Forced labour duties in prison camps include breaking rocks in quarries and building roads.
Some ethnic minority armed opposition groups, including the CNF, continue to fight against the central authorities of Myanmar, although the government states that 17 cease-fires have been agreed with such groups. In areas where the Myanmar army carries out counter-insurgency activity, including Chin state, civilians are sometimes extrajudicially executed, forcibly relocated or used as forced labour.
In October 2000 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, Myanmar’s military government) and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) embarked on confidential talks after several years of increasing confrontation between the government and the opposition.
Trials of political prisoners in Myanmar do not meet international standards for fair trial procedures. In 2001 over 150 political prisoners have been released, but hundreds of others remain imprisoned. Prison conditions are harsh, and the lack of sanitation, adequate medical care, food or water continue to be ongoing concerns. In the last two weeks two political prisoners have reportedly died in custody.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language
-urging the authorities to ensure that Pastor Gracy is not tortured, ill-treated or subjected to forced labour;
– calling for her to be granted access to proper medical care, lawyers, and her family;
– asking the authorities for further information about the charges brought against her, including the legislation used to sentence her;
-asking the authorities for further information about her trial, including whether she had proper access to legal counsel and whether she was allowed adequate time and resources to prepare a defence.
Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, Secretary 1 State Peace and Development Council
c/o Director of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI)
Ministry of Defense, Signal Pagoda Road
Dagon Post Office
Union of Myanmar
Telegrams: General Khin Nyunt, Yangon, Myanmar
Faxes: + 95 1 222 950
Salutation: Your Excellency
Colonel Hla Min
Office of Strategic Studies
Department of International Affairs
c/o Ministry of Defense, Signal Pagoda Road
Dagon Post Office
Union of Myanmar
Telegrams: Colonel Hla Min, Yangon, Myanmar
Faxes: + 95 1 222 950
Salutation: Dear Colonel
COPIES to diplomatic representatives of MYANMAR accredited to your country. PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat or your section office, if sending appeals after 6 September 2001
DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT TOWARDS FEDERAL UNION:
The Role of UNLD in the Struggle for Democracy and Federalism in Burma By Dr. Lian H. Sakhong̈ Ph.D. Uppsala University Introduction The United Nationalities League for Democracy (UNLD), an umbrella political organization of non-Burman or non-Myanmar nationalities in Burma, was formed in 1988 following the nationwide democracy movement against three decades of General Ne Win’s dictatorship. From the very beginning, the UNLD adopted a policy aimed at the establishment of a genuine federal union based on democratic rights for all citizens, political equality for all nationalities and the rights of self-determination for all member states of the Union. It openly declared that democracy without federalism would not solve the political crisis in Burma, including the civil war, which had already been fought, for four decades. Thus for the UNLD, the ultimate goal of the democratic movement in present Burma is not only to restore democratic government but to establish a genuine federal union. In other words, the UNLD views the root of political crisis in Burma today as a constitutional problem ra! ther than a purely ideological confrontation between democracy and dictatorship.
In this paper, I shall explore the role of the UNLD in the on-going struggle for democracy and federalism in Burma. In doing this, attention will be given to the basic principles of federalism and democratic decentralization, which of course is the goal of the movement and the aim of the UNLD. However, instead of presenting a theoretical paper on the basic principles of federalism, I shall focus my attention to the quest for federalism within the historical framework of “religious and ethnic conflicts”, so-called, in modern Burma. In this way, I shall argue that the democracy movement in Burma since the military coup d’état in 1962 is the continuation of the “federal movement” during the parliamentary democratic period in the 1950s and early 1960s. The central argument in this paper therefore will run through the military coup in 1962 as “the culmination of political process” stemming from the political crisis during the parliamentary democratic perio! d. I shall then try to point out how and why we can view the role of UNLD in present struggle as the continuation of the Supreme Council of the United Hills Peoples (SCOUHP), which played a leading role in federal movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Another way of putting it is to say that what the UNLD is trying to achieve at present is what the SCOUHP attempted even before the military coup in 1962. But because the federal movement led by the SCOUHP was abruptly interrupted by the military coup in 1962, the struggle for democracy and federalism needs to be continued today.
The Union of Burma is a nation-state of diverse ethnic nations (ethnic nationalities or nationalities), founded in 1947 at the Panglong Conference by pre-colonial independent ethnic nationalities such as the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Rakhine (Arakan), Myanmar (Burman), and Shan , based on the principle of equality. As it was founded by formerly independent peoples in 1947 through an agreement, the boundaries of the Union of Burma today are not historical. Rather, the Union of Burma, or Burma in its current form, was born of the historic Panglong Agreement signed in 1947.
In order to understand the complex background of religious and ethnic diversity in Burma, one might firstly note that there is an age-old identification of Burman/Myanmar ethnicity and Buddhism, which has been the dominant ideological and political force in what is today called the Union of Burma or Myanmar. Secondly, there are other ethnic nations or nationalities such as the Mon, Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan, who are Buddhists, but feel dominated by the Burman/Myanmar majority. Thirdly, there are ethnic nationalities who are predominantly Christians within a Baptist tradition. The most prominent Christian groups are the Chin, Kachin and Karen. They — like the Mon and the Shan — form ethnic communities which transcend the boundaries of the modern nation-states of Burma, Bangladesh, India, China, and Thailand. The present state of relations between majority Burman/Myanmar Buddhists and minority Christian ethnic groups must be understood against the backgroun! d of colonial history.
The British annexed “Burma Proper”, i.e., the Burman or Myanmar Kingdom, in three Anglo-Burmese wars fought in 1824-26, 1852 and 1885. As a result, the British took over Burma Proper in three stages: the Rakhine (Arakan) and Tenasserim coastal provinces in 1826, Lower Burma (previously Mon Kingdom) including Rangoon — the present capital of Burma — in 1852, and Upper Burma including Mandalay, the last capital of the Burman Kingdom in 1885. When the last King of Burma, Thibaw, was deposed and exiled to India, the possessions of the Burman Kingdom — including semi-independent tributaries of the Burman king, such as the Arakan and the Mon — were transferred to the British. However, this arrangement did not include the Chin, Kachin, Shan and Karenni, who were completely independent peoples, and had never been conquered by the Burman King. Thus, the British separately conquered or “pacified” them during a different period of time. The Chin people, for instanc! e, were “pacified” only ten years after the fall of Mandalay, and their land Chinram, or Chinland, was not declared a part of British India until 1896.
During the colonial period, the British applied two different administrative systems: “direct rule” and “indirect rule”. The first was applied to the peoples and areas they conquered together with the Burman Kingdom, i.e., “Burma Proper”. “Indirect rule”, on the other hand, was applied to the peoples who were “pacified” or added by treaty (the Shan principalities, for example) to the British empire after the annexation of the Burman kingdom. Under the British policy of “indirect rule”, the traditional princes and local chiefs of the Chin, Kachin and the Shan were allowed to retain a certain level of administrative and judiciary powers within their respective territories.
In 1937, when the Burma Act of 1935 was officially implemented, Burma Proper was separated from British India and given a Governor of its own. The 1935 Act also created a government structure for Burma Proper, with a Prime Minister and cabinet. The Legislative Council for Burma Proper was also created, although essential power remained firmly in the hands of the British Governor and Westminster. From that time on, Burma Proper was commonly known as “Ministerial Burma”. In contrast to this, the term “Excluded Areas” was used to denote the Chin, Kachin and Shan States (Federated Shan States), which were not only subject to “indirect rule”, but also excluded from the Legislative Council of Ministerial Burma. The term “Excluded Areas”, however, was superseded by the term “Frontier Areas” when the British government created a “Frontier Area Administration” soon after the Second World War.
The Second World War and the Japanese invasion of Burma brought British rule to an abrupt end. Accompanied and helped by the Burma Independence Army (BIA) led by General Aung San (later, U Aung San, upon leaving the armed services), the Japanese easily eliminated the British and captured Rangoon. In May 1942, the Governor of Burma fled to Simla, India, and established the British Burma government in exile there. Having successfully driven the British into India, the Japanese occupied Burma Proper and set up a military administration along their lines of advance.
When the BIA were allowed by the Japanese to be stationed in the Irrawady delta where the majority of the population were Karen, who were loyal to the British, communal violence erupted between the Karen and the Burman. The Japanese ended the bloodbath but only after more than 1,000 Karen civilians lost their lives. Because of that event, a full-scale war broke out between the Karen and the newly independent Burmese government in 1949. This ethnic conflict was the beginning of civil war in modern Burma, in which hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost over more than five decades and which is still in progress. As will be explained, only in the case of the Karen, can the term “ethnic conflict” be applied, but not, for example, the Chin, Kachin, Shan, etc..
After expelling the Japanese, the British returned to Burma in the spring of 1945. They outlined their long-term plan for the future of Burma in the form of a White Paper. This plan provided for a three-year period of direct rule under the British Governor, during which economic rehabilitation from the ravages of war was to be undertaken. Next, the Legislative Council of Ministerial Burma would be restored in accordance with the 1935 Burma Act. Only after the elections had been held under this Act would the legislature be invited to frame a new constitution “which would eventually provide the basis on which Burma would be granted dominion status.” For the Frontier Areas, the White Paper provided a means of maintaining the pre-war status quo. The Karenni (Kayah) State was still bound by the pre-colonial treaty as an independent nation. Since the Chinram, the Kachin State and the Federated Shan States were excluded from the administration of Burma Proper, they would, according to the White Paper, have “a special regime under the Governor”. When Stevenson became the Director of the Frontier Areas Administration, he even promoted plans to create a “United Frontier Union” for the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Shan and other non-Burman nationalities. However, the plans did not come to fruition as the British Conservative Party of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, lost the general election in 1945.
In the early stage of the post-war period, the British strongly highlighted the rights and interests of the Chin, Kachin, Karen and other non-Burman nationalities from the Frontier Areas who had loyally defended the British Empire during the war. But when the Labour Government came to power, Britain reversed its policy, and Burma’s political agenda became largely a matter of bilateral negotiation between the British Labor government and U Aung San’s AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League). Thus, in December 1946, the Labor government invited only U Aung San, the undisputed leader of the Burmese nationalist movement. The delegation, which did not include a single representative from the Frontier Areas, went to London to discuss “the steps that would be necessary to constitute Burma a sovereign independent nation.” Since Attlee’s Labour Government had already prepared to grant Burma’s independence either within or without the Commonwealth, the London talk! s were largely a formality, at most putting into more concrete form the principles to which they had already agreed. It might be said — as Churchill stated in parliament — the people of the Frontier Area were abandoned by the British and left to salvage what they could of their former independent status with U Aung San and the AFPFL.
The Question of Non-Burman Nationalities
At the London Talks in December 1946, the Burman delegates demanded that “the amalgamation of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma should take place at once, and that the Governor’s responsibility for the Frontier Areas should end.” As noted already, the London Talks was bilateral negotiation between the British Labor government and Aung San’s AFPFL without a single representative from non-Burman nationalities. Although there were at least three Karen members in the Constituent Assembly of the Interim Burmese government, none of them were included in the London Talks. Instead, Aung San included several councilors, civil servants and politicians in the delegation. He even included his main rival politicians such as U Saw and Ba Sein.
On the demand of amalgamation of Frontier Areas with the Ministerial Burma, the British countered the AFPFL’s demand with the following position: The HMG for their part are bound by solemn undertakings to the people of those Areas to regard their wishes in this matter, and they have deep obligations to those peoples for the help that they gave during the war. According to the information available to HMG the Frontier Areas are not yet ready or willing to amalgamate with Burma Proper.
During the talk, Attlee received a cable from the Shan Sawbwa (princes), through the Frontier Areas Administration and the Governor, stating that Aung San and his delegation did not represent the Shan and the Frontier Areas. Stevenson, Director of Frontier Areas Administration, also cabled to London, saying that, We understand that the Hon’ble U Aung San and the Burman Mission visiting London will seek the control of FA. If this is the case we wish to state emphatically that neither the Hon’ble Aung San nor his colleagues has any mandate to speak on behalf of FA.
In short, Aung San and his delegation had no right to discuss the future of the Frontier Areas. Indeed, it might rightly be said that Aung San and his delegation neither represented nor had the right to discuss the future of the peoples of the Frontier Areas, especially the Chin, Kachin, and Shan because they were independent peoples before the colonial period and were conquered separately by the British, and they were not part of Ministerial Burma (Burma Proper). Aung San could therefore legitimately represent only Burma Proper, or the Ministerial Burma, which belonged to an old Burman or Myanmar kingdom before colonial period. In the pre-colonial period, no Burman or Myanmar King had ever conquered, for instance, the Chin people and their land, Chinram. That was the reason the British had applied two different administrative systems. Thus, when Burma and India were to be given independence by the British, the Chinram was not to be handed over to either India or Burma since it was not annexed by the British as a part of either country. They had the fu! ll right to be a sovereign independent state by themselves when the British withdrew its imperial administration from British India and Burma. In a nutshell, Aung San did not and could not represent the Chin and/or other nationalities from the Frontier Areas without any mandate from the peoples themselves.
During this critical period, U Aung San showed not only his honesty but also his ability for great leadership, which eventually won the trust of the non-Burman nationalities. He acknowledged the fact that the non-Burman nationalities from the Frontier Areas had the right to regain their freedom, independence, and sovereign status because they were not the subjects of the pre-colonial Burman or Myanmar Kingdom. Thus, they had the very right of self-determination: to decide on their own whether they would like to gain independence directly from Great Britain, and to found their own sovereign nation-states, or to jointly obtain independence with Burma, or even to remain as Provinces of the Commonwealth of Great Britain. Aung San reassessed his position and bravely and wisely put his signature to the historic agreement, the Aung San-Attlee Agreement, signed on January 27,1947. This historic agreement spelled out the position of the Frontier Areas vis-B-vis indep! endence that was to be granted Ministerial Burma, as below:
8. Frontier Areas:
( b ) The leaders and the representatives of the peoples of the Frontier Areas shall be asked, either at the Panglong Conference to be held at the beginning of next month or at a special conference to be convened for the purpose of expressing their views upon the form of association with the government of Burma which they consider acceptable during the transition period . . .
( c ) After the Panglong Conference, or the special conference, His Majesty’s government and the government of Burma will agree upon the best method of advancing their common aims in accordance with the expressed views of the peoples of the Frontier Areas.
However, on that particular issue of non-Burman nationalities, two members of the Burman delegation refused to sign the Aung San-Attlee Agreement. One was U Saw, the former Prime Minister, and the other was Thakin Ba Sein, who had shared with Thakin Tun Ok the leadership of the minority faction of Dobama Asi-Azone after it split earlier (in 1938). In their view, the clause concerning the Frontier Area in the Agreement carried an implicit threat of “dividing Burma into two parts.” Thus, they not only ignored the history of non-Burman nationalities such as the Chin, Kachin and Shan, but also the will of the people from the Frontier Areas. Upon their return to Rangoon, U Saw and Thakin Ba Sein joined Ba Maw and Paw Tun, another former Prime Minister, formed the National Opposition Front, and accused Aung San of having sold out for the sake of holding office. U Aung San, however, was not unduly troubled by the accusations of his political opponents and plunged straight into negotiation with pre-colonial independent nationalities such as the Chin, Kachin and Shan. As mentioned above, the Aung San-Attlee Agreement had left the future of the Frontier Areas to the decision of its people.
Jointly gaining Independence with Burma After having successfully negotiated with the British, U Aung San turned his attention to the non-Burman nationalities and persuaded them to jointly obtain independence with Burma. He promised the frontier peoples separate status with full autonomy within the Burma Union, active participation at the centre within a Senate-like body, protection of minority rights, and the right of secession. He also promised to make the agreed terms into law as guarantee of their right for the future, and told them they need have no fear of the Burman. The negotiations between Aung San, as the sole representative of the interim Burmese government, and the Chin, Kachin and Shan, were held at the Panglong Conference in February 1947.
U Aung San successfully persuaded the Chin, Kachin, and Shan to join Independent Burma as equal, co-independent partners, and the historic Panglong Agreement was thus signed on February 12, 1947. The essence of the Panglong Agreement – the Panglong Spirit — was that the Chin, Kachin, and Shan did not surrender their rights of self-determination and sovereignty to the Burman. They signed the Panglong Agreement as a means to speed up their own search for freedom together with the Burman and other nationalities in what became the Union of Burma. Thus, the preamble of the Panglong Agreement declares: Believing that freedom will be more speedily achieved by the Shans, the Kachins, and the Chins by their immediate co-operation with the interim Burmese government.
The Panglong Agreement therefore represented a joint vision of the future of the pre-colonial independent peoples — namely the Chin, Kachin, Shan and the interim Burmese government led by Chief Minister Aung San, who came into power in August 1946 according to the Burma Act of 1935. The interim Burmese government was a government for the region formerly known as Burma Proper or Ministerial Burma, which included such non-Burman nationalities as the Mon, Rakhine (Arakan), and Karen. The Arakan and Mon were included because they were occupied by the British not as independent peoples but as the subjects of the kingdom of Burman or Myanmar. The Karens were included in the Legislative Council of Ministerial Burma according to the 1935 Burma Act because the majority of the Karens (more than two-thirds of the population) were living in delta areas side by side with the Burmans. Since these peoples were included in the Legislative Council of Ministerial Burma, U Au! ng San could represent them in Panglong as the head of their government. Thus, the Panglong Agreement should be viewed as an agreement to found a new sovereign, independent nation-state between peoples from pre-colonial independent nations of what they then called Frontier Areas and Burma Proper, who in principle had the right to regain their independence directly from Great Britain, and to form their own respective nation-states. In other words, the Panglong Agreement was an agreement signed between the peoples of a post-colonial nation-state-to-be. Ever since the Union of Burma gained independence in 1948, the date the Panglong Agreement was signed has been celebrated as Union Day. The observance of February12th as Union Day means the mutual recognition of the Chin, Kachin, Shan and other nationalities, including the Burmans, as “different people historically and traditionally due to their differences in their languages as well as their cultural life”. It is also the recognition of the distinct national identity of the Chin, Kachin, Shan, and other nationalities who had the right to gain their own independence separately and to found their own nation-state separately. In other words, it is the recognition of pre-colonial independent status of the Chin, Kachin, and Shan, and other nationalities as well as their post-colonial status of nation-state-to-be.
Condition Underpinning the Creation of the Union of Burma
According to the Aung San-Attlee Agreement, the Frontier Areas Committee of Enquiry (FACE) was formed to inquire through an additional and specific consultation about the wishes of the frontier peoples. The British government appointed Col. D. R. Rees-William as Chairman of the FACE. Since the committee conducted its inquiry after the signing of the Panglong Agreement during March and April 1947, the evidence they heard was generally in favour of cooperation with Burma but under the condition of:
Equal rights with Burman,
Full internal autonomy for Hill Areas [ that is, ethnic national states] , and The right of secession from Burma at any time.
The FACE finally concluded its report to the Government that the majority of witnesses who supported cooperation with Burma demanded the “right of secession by the States at any time”.
The FACE report, particularly the right of secession, was strongly criticized by such Burman nationalists as U Saw and Thakhin Ba Sein who had earlier refused to sign the Aung San-Attlee Agreement. They accused Aung San of having given up Burman territory and argued that the Frontier Areas were just the creation of the colonial policy of “divide and rule”. U Aung San dismissed this criticism as historically unfounded and politically unwise. And he said, “The right of secession must be given, but it is our duty to work and show (our sincerity) so that they don’t wish to leave.” And in keeping with his promise to the Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders at the Panglong Conference to make agreed term into law, the right of secession was provided for in the 1947 Union Constitution of Burma, Chapter X, Article 201, and 202:
Chapter (X): The Right of Secession
201. Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Constitution or in any Act of Parliament made under section 199, every state shall have the right to secede from the Union in accordance with the condition hereinafter prescribed. 202. The right of secession shall not be exercised within ten years from the date on which this Constitution comes into operation.
Although the “right of secession” was put into law in the Union Constitution, Burma did not become a genuine federal union.
The End of Aung San’s Policies of Pluralism and Federalism
At the Panglong Conference in 1947, the Chin, Kachin, Shan and other non-Burman nationalities were promised, as Silverstein observes, the right to exercise political authority of [ administrative, judiciary, and legislative powers in their own autonomous national states] and to preserve and protect their language, culture, and religion in exchange for voluntarily joining the Burman in forming a political union and giving their loyalty to a new state. Unfortunately, U Aung San, who persuaded the Chin, Kachin, Shan and other non-Burman nationalities to join Independent Burma as equal partners, was assassinated by U Saw on July 19, 1947. He was succeeded by U Nu as leader of the AFPFL. When U Nu became the leader of the AFPFL, Burman politics shifted in a retro-historical direction, backward toward the Old Kingdom of Myanmar or Burman. The new backward-looking policies did nothing to accommodate non-Myanmar/Burman nationalities who had agreed to join Independent Burma only for the sake of “speeding up freedom”.
As a leader of the AFPFL, the first thing U Nu did was to give an order to U Chan Htun to re-draft U Aung San’s version of the Union Constitution, which had already been approved by the AFPFL Convention in May 1947. U Chan Htun’s version of the Union Constitution was promulgated by the Constituent Assembly of the interim government of Burma in September 1947. Thus, the fate of the country and the people, especially the fate of the non-Burman/Myanmar nationalities, changed dramatically between July and September 1947. As a consequence, Burma did not become a genuine federal union, as U Chan Htun himself admitted to historian Hugh Tinker. He said, “Our country, though in theory federal, is in practice unitary.”
On the policy of religion, U Nu also reversed U Aung San’s policy after the latter was assassinated. Although Aung San, the hero of independence and the founder of the Union of Burma, had opted for a “secular state” with a strong emphasis on “pluralism” and the “policy of unity in diversity” in which all different religious and racial groups in the Union could live together peacefully and harmoniously, U Nu opted for a more confessional and exclusive policy on religion. The revision of Aung San’s version of the Union Constitution thus proved to be the end of his policy for a secular state and pluralism in Burma, which eventually led to the promulgation of Buddhism as the state religion of the Union of Burma in 1961.
For the Chin and other non-Burman nationalities, the promulgation of Buddhism as the “state religion of the Union of Burma” in 1961 was the greatest violation of the Panglong Agreement in which U Aung San and the leaders of the non-Burman nationalities agreed to form a Union based on the principle of equality. They therefore viewed the passage of the state religion bill not only as religious issue, but also as a constitutional problem, in that this had been allowed to happen. In other words, they now viewed the Union Constitution as an instrument for imposing “a tyranny of majority”, not as their protector. Thus, the promulgation of Buddhism as the state religion of Burma became not a pious deed, but a symbol of the tyranny of the majority under the semi-unitary system of the Union Constitution.
There were two different kinds of reactions to the state religion reform from different non-Burman nationalities. The first reaction came from more radical groups who opted for an armed rebellion against the central government in order to gain their political autonomy and self-determination. The most serious armed rebellion as a direct result of the adoption of Buddhism as state religion was that of the Kachin Independence Army, which emerged soon after the state religion of Buddhism was promulgated in 1961. The “Christian Kachin”, as Graver observes, “saw the proposal for Buddhism to be the state religion as further evidence of the Burmanization [Myanmarization] of the country,” which they had to prevent by any means, including an armed rebellion. The Chin rebellion, led by Hrang Nawl, was also related to the promulgation of Buddhism as the state religion, but the uprising was delayed until 1964 owing to tactical problems. Thus, the Chin rebellion wa! s mostly seen as the result of the 1962 military coup, rather than the result of the promulgation of Buddhism as the state religion in 1961.
The second reaction came from more moderate groups, who opted for constitutional means of solving their problems, rather than an armed rebellion. The most outstanding leader among these moderate groups was Sao Shwe Thaike of Yawnghwe, a prominent Shan Sawbwa who was elected as the first President of the Union of Burma. Although a devout Buddhist, he strongly opposed the state religion bill because he saw it as a violation of the Panglong Agreement. As a president of the Supreme Council of United Hills People (SCOUHP), formed during the Panglong Conference, he invited leaders of not only the Chin, Kachin and Shan, the original members of the SCOUHP, but also other non-Burman nationalities — the Karen, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhine (Arakan) — to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, to discuss constitutional problems. Unfortunately, these problems still remain unsolved. The conference was attended by 226 delegates and came to be known as the 1961 Taunggyi Conferenc! e, and the movement itself was known later as the Federal Movement.
The Federal Movement in 1961-62
At the Taunggyi Conference, all delegates, except three who belonged to U Nu’s party, agreed to amend the Union Constitution based on Aung San’s draft, which the AFPFL convention had approved in May 1947, as noted already. At the AFPFL convention, U Aung San asked, “Now when we build our new Burma shall we build it as a Union or as Unitary State?…. “In my opinion”, he answered, “it will not be feasible to set up a Unitary State. We must set up a Union with properly regulated provisions to safeguard the right of the national minorities.” According to U Aung San’s version of the constitution, the Union would be composed of National States, or what he called “Union States” such as the Chin, Kachin, Shan and Burman States and other National States such as Karen, Karenni (Kayah), Mon and Rakhine (Arakan) States. “The original idea”, as Dr. Maung Maung observes, “was that the Union States should have their own separate constitutions, their own organs! of state, viz. Parliament, Government and Judiciary.”
U Chan Htun had reversed all these principles of the Federal Union after Aung San was assassinated. According to U Chan Htun’s version of the Union Constitution, the Burma Proper or the ethnic Burman/ Myanmar did not form their own separate National State; instead they combined the power of Burman/Myanmar National State with the whole sovereign authority of the Union of Burma. Thus, while one ethnic group, the Burman/ Myanmar, controlled the sovereign power of the Union, that is, legislative, judiciary, and administrative powers of the Union of Burma; the rest of the ethnic nationalities who formed their own respective National States became almost like the “vassal states” of the ethnic Burman or Myanmar. This constitutional arrangement was totally unacceptable to the Chin, Kachin, Shan who signed the Panglong Agreement on the principle of equality, and also for other nationalities.
They therefore demanded at the 1961 Taunggyi Conference the amendment of the Union Constitution and the formation a genuine Federal Union composed of National States, with the full rights of political autonomy, i.e., legislative, judiciary and administrative powers within their own National States, and self-determination including the right of secession. They also demanded separation between the political power of the Burman/Myanmar National State and the sovereign power of the Union, i.e., the creation of a Burman or Myanmar National State within the Union.
The second point they wanted to amend on the Union Constitution was the structure of Chamber of Nationalities. The original idea of the creation of the Chamber of Nationalities was that it was not only to the safeguard of the rights of non-Burman nationalities but also for the symbolic and real equality, envisaged at the Panglong Conference. Thus, what they wanted was that each National State should have the right to send equal representatives to the Chamber of Nationalities, no matter how big or small their National State might