PERSECUTION OF CHIN CHRISTIANS IN BURMA AND THE CHIN INSURGENCY

CHIN CHRISTIANS

At present an estimated 90 percent of Chins in Chin state are Christians. Chin State has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma in terms percentage. Salai Bawi Lian , Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “In 1899, American Baptist Missionary Rev. Arthur Carson and his wife from American Baptist Mission come to Chinland, present Chin state in Burma, and founded mission station at Haka present capital town of Chin state. They brought the gospel and Christianity to the Chin people. As we, the Chins had our own cultural heritage and religion, our fore-fathers did not accept Christianity easily when the American Baptist missionary come to our land. Only after 5 years of the arrival of the American missionaries that the first two Chin couples converted to Christianity in 1904. And following over a century, about 90 percent of Chins in Chin state have converted to Christianity and Christianity become part of Chin identity and culture. In 1953 Baptist Chins organized themselves as Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. The majority of Chin Christians are Baptist and there are around 1,000 local small churches in all over Chin state and several associations. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“Since the first Chin conversion to Christianity in the early 1900s following the arrival of American missionaries, Christianity has been deeply entrenched in Chin society and has become part of the Chin cultural identity. Today, the impact of Christianity was not only confined within the spiritual and cultural contexts of the Chin people, it manifested itself as a uniting force for different Chin communities. With their conversion to Christianity, the Chins embraced one another as members of a community of faith in Christ. At the same time, there developed a new self-consciousness and political awareness of Chin cultural homogeneity, thus providing a new framework for Chin nationalism. ><

“Christian pastors and ministers secure high reverence and respect among the Chin people. They are highly respected as intermediaries between God and the congregations. Even outside of the Church, they play significant leadership role on occasions such as death, birth or marriage in the community. Also, because there are no Chin people represented in the local or state administration under the Burmese military regime, even in a secular setting, they receive high degrees of respect as leaders of the community. Today, their dignitary position has attracted the attention and jealousy of the ruling military regime, making them the first targets in the regime’s campaign against Christianity and Chin people. ><

Persecution of Chin Christians in Burma

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “The Chins are now persecuted for their belief in Christianity and democracy by the most brutal and ruthless military junta in the world at present. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism and assimilated them into mainstream Burman culture. Evidence demonstrates that the military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“In Burma more than 80 percent are Buddhist and Christians made only 4 percent in the country while in Chin state, Christians made about 90 percent of the population and religious persecution is a major concern in Chin state and among Chin Christians.As Chin State has the largest concentration of Christians in the whole of Burma in terms percentage, it was not only a large number of Burmese soldiers that was brought into by the Burmese regime, in the name of “Hill Regions Buddhist Mission”, the junta brought in an army of Buddhist monks who were then dispatched to various towns and villages across Chin State. Protected by the soldiers, these Buddhist monks have considerable powers over the Chin population. In many cases, local people have pointed out that the monks are military intelligence operatives who are more powerful than local army commanders. ><

“The Chin Human Rights Organization reported about the monks stationed around Matupi Township as follow: The monks who live at Zakam, Rezua, Leisen, Vangvai and Tinsi villages rule the communities. Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks orders is reported to the SLORC/SPDC army and he/she is punished by the army. The monks give judgment on all cases. For those who become Buddhist, they are free from any persecution such as forced labour, portering, extortion of money, etc. Whenever and wherever a monk visits, he is accompanied by the army and they arrange a porter to carry the monk’s particulars. The villagers were forced to build a Buddhist monastery and temple. But they refused, insisting “we are Christians”. Even though the army threatened action against them, they didn’t build it yet. Now the monks and army are holding a meeting to discuss this. Nobody knows what will happen.” ><

“The military regime’s campaign of ethnocide against Chin people has had serious effect on the lives of the people of Chin State. The physiological dimension is rather profound. Many Chin Christians are convinced that their religious faith is making them targets for abuse, and conversion to Buddhism not only provides them a sense of security but also eases their economic hardships. Yet, there are also people who think that persecution because of their faiths makes their spiritual commitments even stronger. However, it is already apparent that the ethnocide campaign is taking a toll on the Chin society. Families are increasingly separated and more people are feeling the Chinland to seek safety elsewhere.

There is increasing concern among Chin Christians about the uncertainties of the future. While the regime’s campaign of ethnocide is starting to take a toll on the Chin society, it seems likely that more Chin people will flee their homeland to escape human rights abuses there, increasing a threat of their religion and culture being eroded at an even fast rate. As one Chin pastor puts it “Chinland has become uninhabitable”.

Salai Bawi Lian Mang is founder of Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO). He is editor of Rhododendron News, a bi-monthly human rights news publish by CHRO and co-author of “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma”. He has participated in the U.N. Human Rights Commission, lobbied the U.N. General Assembly at the third committee, contributed about “The Chin Indigenous People” at Indigenous Year Book 1999 published by IWGIA, Copenhagen. He studied Political Science at Carleton University. He was an International Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley in the year 2003-2004.Salai Bawi Lian Mang can be reached at bawilian@hotmail.com

Forced Conversion and State Sponsored Expansion Of Buddhism in Chin State

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “Since 1990 the military government authorities and security forces have promoted Buddhism over Christianity among the Chin. Until 1990 the Chin generally practiced either Christianity or traditional indigenous religions. The Chins were the only major ethnic minority in the country that did not largely support any significant armed organization in active rebellion against the Government or in an armed cease-fire with the Government. Since 1990 government authorities and security forces, with assistance from monks of the Hill Regions Buddhist Missions, coercively have sought to induce Chins to convert to Theravada Buddhism and to prevent Christian Chins from proselytizing Chins who practice traditional indigenous religions. This campaign, reportedly accompanied by other efforts to "Burmanize" the Chin, has involved a large increase in military units stationed in Chin State and other predominately Chin areas, state-sponsored immigration of Buddhist Burman monks from other regions, and construction of Buddhist monasteries and shrines in Chin communities with few or no Buddhists, often by means of forced "donations" of money or labor. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“Along with other methods to Burmanize the Chin, the Burmese military government has converted many Chin Christian families through coercion. The government rewards people who convert to Buddhism by exempting them from forced labor, fiving them ration and monthly allowance. The government also entice Chin Christian children by offering them government scholarship as part of the border area development program. Parents often entrust their children and enrolled them in the program. However, chindlren are later found to be in Buddhist monasteries with their head shaven to become vonice Buddhist monks. ><

A 40-year-old Chin Christian from Matupi Township recounted how he was converted to Buddhism, recruited and trained to be part of a campaign against Christians. “I was invited to attend social welfare training by the [SLORC (now SPDC)] authority from Matupi on 27/2/95. When I arrived at the place, the authority told us that it is to attend Buddhist hill tract missionary training run by a Buddhist monk named U Razinn at Mindat. As we are Christian, we said we didn’t want to go. But the monk persuaded us saying, ‘it is no problem if you are Christian, it is just religious training’. So 5 other persons and I took part in the 10 day training. In the training, we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians.” [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“The 17 points to attack Christians by the regime is as follows: 1) To attack Christian families and the progress of Christians. 2) To criticize against the sermons which are broadcast from Manila, Philippines. 3) To criticize God as narrow-minded and egotistical who himself claimed that “There is no god except eternal God”. 4) To criticize Christian ways of life as corrupted and inappropriate culture in Burma. 5) To criticize the preaching of Christians wherever it has penetrated. 6) To criticize Christianity by means of pointing out its delicacy and weakness. 7( To stop the spread of the Christian movement in rural areas. 8) To criticize by means of pointing out “there is no salvation without purchased by the blood of Christ”. 9) To counterattack by means of pointing out Christianity’s weakness and overcome this with Buddhism. 10) To counter the Bible after thorough study. 11) To criticize that “God loves only Israel but not all the races”. 12) To point out ambiguity between the two testaments. 13) To criticize on the point that Christianity is partisan religion. 14) To criticize Christianity’s concept of the Creator and compare it with the scientific concept. 15) To study and access the amount given in offerings. 16) To criticize the Holy Bible after thorough study. 17) To attack Christians by means of both non-violence and violence.” ><

Myanmar Regime Targets the Chin Clergy and Kils Pastor Zang Kho Let

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “The Chins are now persecuted for their belief in Christianity and democracy by the most brutal and ruthless military junta in the world at present. Burma’s ruling military regime is systematically persecuting Chin Christians in order to replace Christianity with Buddhism and assimilated them into mainstream Burman culture. Evidence demonstrates that the military regime is using religious persecution as a tool of ethnocide against Chin Christians. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“During the past decade, according to Chin Human Rights Organization reports, the Burmese military regime, detained at length, killed or physically abused many Chin Christians. The following incidents is one grave example how they treated pastors; In August 1993, the Burmese troop arrested and they (the Burmese Army) interrogated Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the Pastor’s answers did not pleased the interrogators, the army personnel beat him with rifle butts or sticks that eventually broke almost all of his bones after two days of interrogation. They cut open his mouth to the neck and told him “We cut open your mouth so that you will no longer preach”. In the two days that they tortured him, Pastor Zang Kho Let never admitted to using the church fund to help the resistance movement or that he was involved in helping the armed resistance. The soldiers, Non Commissioner Officer NCO’s, and officers tortured the pastor with the intent to kill but he was still alive after two days of their inhuman brutality. When the torturers reported to their Commanding officer, Colonel Thura Sein Win, on the condition of the pastor, the colonel ordered them to tighten a plastic bag over his head. (Thura is an award given for bravery, like the torture of the preacher.) ><

“After Pastor Zang Kho Let died, they dragged his lifeless body out of the school building and shot him. With a bullet wound in his body, the Burmese army unit claimed that they shot the pastor because he was trying to escape. The soldiers brought the dead body of Pastor Zang Kho Let back in the school building and placed together with the leaders of the village community, who were arrested to witness the gruesome state of the body. They were told to feel the bones, which were all broken. They were told, “If you do not tell us the truth and if you do not admit that you helped the rebel, you will face the same fate.” ><

“The headman of the village, Zang Kho Ngam, farmers Ngam Khai, and Thawng Kho Lun admitted to helping the resistance movement in order to escape torture and death. Nonetheless, they were tortured. It took seven days for the three of them to die; they died a slow death. The soldiers cut and burned their skin. They poured salt directly into their open sores. The soldiers zealously repeated the torture that they had just meted out to Pastor Zang Kho Let. When the two farmers died, the soldiers again dragged the bodies outside of the school building and shot. The Burmese Army buried the headman Zang Kho Ngam alive. ><

Prohibition of Construction of Chin Churches and Forced Labor

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “Several Chin Christian churches and infrastructure under construction in the 1990s were forced to stop by the military authority. Those who persisted in constructing their church building had been threatened or punished by the army. CHRO reports that; when the Burmese army ordered to stop construction of Salvation Army Church in Khampat, the pastor of the church ignored the order by resuming construction of the church. He was humiliated and badly beaten up by the army that he was hospitalized for several days. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“The military regime reportedly ordered to stop construction of the following churches and Christian infrastructure; Chin Christian centenary building in Hakha – the capital of Chin State; United Pentecostal Church in Hakha; Zomi Theological dining hall in Falam; Church of Jesus Christ in Falam; hostels (both men and women) for Chin Christian College in Haka, Baptist Church in Farhual, Salvation Army church in Khampat, and the Assembly of God’s Church in Kalaymyo, Evangelical Baptist Church in Myoma Quarter, Faith Bible Theological Seminary in Lawibual Quarter, Sakollam Baptist Church, and Lawibual Baptist Church, Lai Baptist Church in Rangoon were prohibited by the authority. ><

Although most Chin families have been equally affected by the army’s use of forced labor, in many cases, forced labor is specifically directed against Christians in order to coerce them into converting to Buddhism. There are ample evidences that the Burmese military regime is using forced labor as part of its Burmanization program. The apparent theory is that by converting Chin Christians to Buddhism, an important Chin identity will be stripped away, thereby eventually assimilating them into Burman identity. Forced labor has also been used to discourage people from going to church by compelling them to work on Sundays and other Christian religious holidays. ><

Desecration of Chin Crosses

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “Evidence shows that the Burmese military regime has actively targeted Christian symbols in its campaign of Burmanization and ethnocide against various ethnic groups in the country. Christian crosses erected on the tops of hills throughout Chin State have been destroyed. Many of them replaced with Buddhist pagodas and statue of Buddhist monks. Since the early 1980s, Chin communities in various villages and towns have erected wooden crosses on mounts and hill tops beside their villages and towns to symbolize their faith in Christianity, and to remind themselves of the fact that Christianity has played an important role in shaping their modern society and culture. In some cases, however, the erection of these crosses were in response to what the Chin regarded was the State-sponsored importation of Buddhism into Chin State with the construction of pagodas and temples in certain urban centers which began in the 1970s. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“Destruction of crosses started around the early 1990s with the rapid increase in army battalions established across Chin State. Since then, almost every cross in all the nine townships in Chin State had been destroyed by the regime. Destruction of crosses is usually ordered by the township authorities or by army battalion commanders. After an order is issued, the church or community responsible for erecting the cross is given a timeframe during which they must dismantle the cross. Failure to do so within the given period often means that the cross is destroyed by the authorities and that Church leaders are arrested for defiance of orders. As recently as January 3, 2005 a giant Christian cross on top of Mount Boi near Matupi town of Chin State was destroyed by Burmese troops on direct order of Colonel San Aung, one of the highest ranking military commanders in the region. The 50-foot tall concrete cross was erected by local Christians at the cost three and a half million Kyats. After destroying the cross, troops from Light Infantry Battalion (304) hoisted a Burmese flag as a sign of victory against Christianity in Chin State where more than 90 percent of the populations are Christians. There are reports the regime is making plans to construct a Buddhist pagoda on the site. ><

“I would like to share you what was happening in my home town of Thantlang. The year 1999 marked one hundredth year of the arrival of Christian gospel among the Chins. The centennial celebration was originally planned for March 15 in Haka, the Capital of Chin state where the first Ameriacan missionaries established their first mission center in 1899. Before the official celebration in Haka, advance celebrations were held locally in various townships under the leadership of local churches. In Thantlang town, the celebration was organized jointly by all denominations in the town from January 1-3 1999. ><

“On January 5, when the celebration was over, the organizers erected a Centenneial Memorial Cross on a hilltop on Vuichip ridge, located west of the town. Though primarily in remembrance of the early American missionaries, selection of the location for the cross had other significance. In addition to its good view from town, the spot has spiritual and religious dimension to it. Before the advent of Christianity, Thantlang residents had traditionally believed that Vuichip ridge was the dwelling place of evil spirits and there had been legends surrounding the spirits roaming the ridge. The erection of the cross on that particular location was to signify that evil spirits have been defeated by the crucifixion Jesus Christ on the cross. The cross was decorated with looking glasses so that it would be more recognizable when it glows with the reflection from the sun. ><

“On the very night of the cross was erected, the township peace and development council ordered the destruction of the cross, compelling the very people who had erected the cross to destroy it. When the people refused, a section of local police were sent to destroy the cross. Six Christian pastors responsible for organizing the Centennial Celebration and the erection of the Memorial cross were arrested and interrogated by the authority. In response on January 6, the whole town stage a silent protest by closing down their businesses and refusing to go to work, and by observing 24 hour fast and prayer vigil in their local churches and homes. Fearing the news of protest might spread to other towns; the authorities shutdown telephone connection of the town and arrested 20 more Church leaders. Nevertheless, on January 9, Churches in the Chin state capital, Haka joined the protest, prompting Chairman of the Chin State Peace and Development Council to go to Thantlang to end the strike by threatening and intimidating them.”

Censorship and Restriction on Freedom of Assembly and Worship

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “Like all other freedoms, freedom of assembly is subject to severe restriction in Burma. This restriction does not exempt freedom of assembly in religious contexts. All gatherings and conferences, including celebrations of religious festivals, require prior authorization by the military regime. However, it is usually extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain such authorization for occasions with potentially large turnout. Citing the risk of security associated with such events, the regime arbitrarily limits the number of people who can attend an event. Moreover, organizations must apply directly to the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs in Rangoon for permission, a process which involves a long waiting period. This time-consuming bureaucratic procedure creates uncertainties, and it often results in the event having to be cancelled or postponed. People suspect such kind of procedure is deliberately used to prevent Christians from conducting their religious affairs. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“In rural areas, local army commanders often issue direct orders forbidding worship services, as well as Christmas and New Year celebrations. The following is transcript of radio broadcast by the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma on December 23, 2002. “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 ceremonies and prayer meetings. They went from village to village and told them if they wanted to hold any ceremony they were 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. He also said that if the chairmen and pastors deliberately held any such Christmas feast in defiance of the order, the village chairmen and pastors would all be arrested and recruited as porters. They also threatened to dislocate people.” ><

“Since the military government came to power in 1962, the Christians in Burma, especially non-Burman nationalities have mostly been unable to print the Holy Bible in their own language inside Burma. Chin Christians, for instance, printed the Bile in the Chin language in India, and smuggled it into Burma in the 1970s and 1980s. Even the Holy Bible in Burmese, which was translated by Rev. Judson in the 1820s, never received permission to be reprinted from the Censor Board of the Burmese government, or at least the Old Testament never did. Only the New Testament, together with Psalms and Proverbs, once received permission to be printed during the entire period of the Burmese military regime, that is, from 1962 to present. >< The CHRO received a report in the year 2000 that, in the month of June 2000, the SPDC officials in Tamu ordered 16,000 copies of the Bible to be burned in Tamu, Sagaing Division that borders India. These Bibles, which were seized in 1999 by the Burmese Army, are in Chin, Karen and other ethnic languages.

Human Rights Watch Report: Myanmar's Chin People Persecuted

Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “The "forgotten" Chin people are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, New York-based Human Right Watch said, adding that tens of thousands have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar. "The Chin are unsafe in Burma and unprotected in India, but just because these abuses happen far from Delhi and Rangoon (Yangon) does not mean the Chin should remain `forgotten people,'" the report said. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, January 27, 2009]

"(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity. We kept telling them that we didn't know anything," said a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents. He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.

A number spoke of being forced out of their villages to serve as unpaid porters for the army or to build roads, sentry posts and army barracks. "We are like slaves, we have to do everything (the army) tells us to do," another Chin man said. The report said the regime, attempting to suppress minority cultures, was destroying churches, interfering with worship services and promoting Buddhism through threats and inducements.

The suffering of the Chin, the report said, was compounded by recent food shortages and famine caused by a massive rat infestation in Chin State, already one of the poorest regions of Myanmar. "For too long, ethnic groups like the Chin have borne the brunt of abusive military rule in Burma," said the report, using the former name for the country.

Discrimination of the Chin Based on Ethnicity and Religion

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “Under successive Burmese governments, people of non-Burman ethnic and non-Buddhist background find themselves discriminated against their Burman Buddhist counterparts in education, employment and various levels of civil service. Even those in the army and police serving successive governments were systematically denied promotions in rank on the sole basis of their ethnicity and religion. [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

“Since the 1980s, the new Burmese citizenship law required that every citizen of Union of Burma register for a national identity card on which all particulars including the bearer’s ethnic and religious backgrounds should be provided. Although the initial intention was to exclude “foreigners” such as Indian and Chinese immigrants from citizenship, the introduction of the identity card has had a far-reaching impact on ethnic and religious minority groups. Because the card is essential for travel, employment, health care and higher education, people of non-Burman and non-Buddhist background could be easily denied for employment as well as promotion in civil service on the basis of the particulars provided on the national identity card. In many instances, for Christians and other religious minorities, promotion in civil service is conditioned by their conversion into Buddhism. Many Christian civil servants with outstanding service records have been blatantly denied promotion while their Buddhist peers with less qualification and less seniority quickly rose to high ranking positions. Even a few exceptional non-Buddhist individuals securing high ranking positions were sacked or forced to retire from their positions. ><

Biak To, a Chin Christian who had served in the Burmese army from 1973 to 1990 as a Captain and later became a Lieutenant Colonel in the police explains how he was sacked for no apparent reasons in 2000: “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.” ><

Major Thawng Za Lian, who has an excellent record in his military service in the Burmese army until leaving the service in 1997, recounts his experience during his career as an officer with a background of minority religious and ethnic identity in Burma that. “In the army, A, B and C are categories designated for those who can not be promoted in rank. A stands for AIDS symptom, B stands for Hepatitis B and C stands for Christians. Under these categories, those who are carrying AIDS disease are discharged from the military and those who have Hepatitis B are transferred to civil service. And all those belonging to category C (Christians) are not given promotion.” Major Lian eventually left the army when he was asked to abandon his Christian faith and converted to Buddhism by his superior in order to be promoted. ><

Chin Insurgency

The Chin National Front, a group advocating democratic government, was formed in 1988. Punishment for being a member of this group is 10-15 years in prison, depending on the size of bribe that the family can afford.

Human Rights Watch said insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses, including the extortion of money from villagers to fund their operations. "(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity. We kept telling them that we didn't know anything," said a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents, who are small in number and largely ineffective. He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.

Chin Peace Negotiator

Ngun Cung Lian — managing director of the Herzfeld, Rubin, Meyer & Rose law firm in Yangon and part-time peace negotiator—fought for a Chin rebel group in the remote jungles of northwestern Chin state. “Fortunately, I survived, a lot of my friends were killed,” he told the Washington Pos. Now he is working with the reformist government that took power in 2011 as a go-between with his former Chin colleagues and other minorities to seek an end to conflicts with several ethnic groups that make up the world’s longest-running civil war. [Source: Joseph J. Schatz, Washington Post, January 5, 2014 *=*]

Joseph J. Schatz wrote in the Washington Post: “Now nearly 47 and an American citizen, Ngun Cung Lian left Chin state in the 1990s to attend college in Indiana. He earned a law degree and co-founded the Center for Constitutional Democracy at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law before returning to Burma to run the first fully U.S.-owned law firm in the country. *=*

“As a negotiator, Ngun Cung Lian has faced blowback from his former colleagues in the Chin resistance. “The problem is that ethnic armed groups view me as a traitor,” he said.But his academic stature and constitutional expertise make him a rare commodity among Burma’s ethnic minorities. And colleagues say his years of work with the Chin resistance, even while in Indiana, give him credibility, and clear eyes, when it comes to the shortcomings on both sides. “A person like him, in that kind of situation, cannot satisfy everyone,” said Zaw Oo, another former exile who returned to Burma. He is a top economic adviser to President Thein Sein. *=*

“Ngun Cung Lian, a native of the city of Matupi in mountainous Chin state, a poor, predominantly Christian area on largely Buddhist Burma’s border with India, was a self-described “angry student hoping that democracy would bring a better life” when protests against the then-military dictatorship swept the country in 1988. About to be arrested by government forces, he fled to India, traveled to Bangladesh for military training and then returned to Chin state, where he spent much of the next five years fighting for the Chin National Army. Recalling a meeting with a top Burmese official, formerly a government soldier, he said he asked the official, “Do you remember, we tried to kill each other in 1992-93?” After talking, he noted with laughter, the two men said, “Let’s forget about the past.” *=*

“Sick and desperate, he left for India in 1994 and soon won a U.S. government scholarship for Burmese refugees. After arriving in the United States in October 1996, he ended up in Indiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University in 1999 and then master’s and doctoral law degrees at Indiana University. A leader in Indiana’s large population of refugees from Burma, he continued to work as a negotiator for the Chin National Front. But after the junta gave up control of Burma in 2011, Ngun Cung Lian started working with a think tank advising the new quasi-civilian Burmese government, which sought to draw foreign capital into its moribund economy. *=*

“At the new law firm, Ngun Cung Lian spends half of his time on client work, including helping companies find export opportunities in the United States, where import bans on Burmese goods have been lifted. The other half is spent working with the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center, which he joined in 2012. He also uses the first name Andrew and splits his time between Burma and Indianapolis, home to his Burmese wife and two young children. *=*

Chin Refugees

There are Chin refugees in Thailand, Malaysia and India. Of the many sub-groups of Chin, the largest group that has resettled in the United States is the Hakha Chin.

Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said: “About 60,000 Chin refugees have fled to India about 12 thousands more are now taking refuge in Malaysia since the 1990s when the military junta began sending thousands of troops to Chinland. Thousands of Chin families have made their way to Rangoon and elsewhere to escape conditions at home, becoming internally displaced persons or IDPs. However, life is no better for those fleeing the country or those trying to find security elsewhere inside Burma. Most of the refugees living in India and Malaysia are not recognized as refugees by the host governments and are considered ‘illegal immigrants.’ [Source: Salai Bawi Lian, Executive Director, Chin Human Rights Organization, April 2005 ><]

On Chin that might be deported from the United States because of U.S. anti-terrorism laws, Darryl Fears wrote in the Washington Post, “ In central Florida, Lam Kim, 47, is fighting deportation. Kim fled Burma after soldiers ransacked her parents' house and found letters from the Chin National Front thanking her for a donation. The organization, which the Bush administration has labeled a terrorist group, is fighting against the Burmese military junta. Kim, who uses a pseudonym, said she gave the money to help the group feed people in her ethnic group. She was jailed for two years after arriving in the United States in 2004, and her asylum request was rejected by an immigration judge. "If I go back to Burma," she said softly over the telephone, "I have to give my life. I am not terrorist. I say it not fair." [Source: Darryl Fears, Washington Post, January 8, 2007]

Chin Refugees in Malaysia

On Chin refugees in Malaysia trying to make a living there, Reuters reported: “Hunched over sewing machines, a group of Myanmar women refugees are stitching together a livelihood after fleeing persecution from the junta back home. Their simple but modern take on traditional Burmese fabrics draws a steady flow of orders online and visitors to a crowded shop lot in a working class district within the Malaysian capital. With a little cash, these women have become the financial backbone of the ethnic Chin community, whose numbers in Malaysia have grown to 39,000 people in 10 years as the military campaign of forced labor and razing of villages continues in Myanmar. [Source: Reuters, April 20, 2010 ///]

Life in Malaysia, however, is not easy either. Classified as illegal immigrants under Malaysian laws, the refugees cannot find jobs and get access to basic education and healthcare. They run the risk of arrest and deportation. “My husband is working but he is afraid of the local authorities. He won’t get any pay this month, so it is difficult for our family,” said Ma Dwang, a 35-year-old mother of three. “I can earn some income and with that money our family survives, but we cannot afford new clothes.” Around her, women were cutting out fabrics and piecing together elaborate shawls, bags and table runners. They each earn 200 to 300 ringgit (US$62 to US$93) a month, just enough for basic food and medical items as well as some savings. ///

The collective started in 2005 with just 20 women and has grown to 50. The Chin community, which started the project with assistance from U.N. High Commission for Refugees, calls the group “Mang Tha” or “Sweet Dreams” in their language. The women say the project makes them assertive and gives them a haven from their cramped flats that shelter more than 30 refugees at any one time. As the women chat and work, the topic centers around their previous lives as subsistence farmers in the mountainous, resource rich Chin state in northwest Myanmar that borders India and Bangladesh.

More often, they recall the persecution their Christian communities suffered in the hands of the mostly Buddhist Myanmar government. “There was forced labor for women. If roads need to be repaired, the soldiers call us and we would have to go. There was a lot of sexual abuse,” said Susan, one of the women in the collective who declined to give her full name. “They [the soldiers] look down on us, they oppress. Most of the Chin people don’t have any rights so we came here. Those left in Chin state are old people,” said Susan, who was a teacher back home. The Mang Tha women estimate more than 1 million people have fled Chin state to India, Bangladesh and Thailand.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.