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Issue No. 79, 2004
Contents
Kao Wao Team
Mon Links
IMNA
Entertainment
ZopRamasaingMon
Ethnic Links
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KAO WAO NEWS NO. 79

An electronic newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma

November 28-December 8, 2004

READERS’ FRONT

YAA BAA MAGIC

corruption SPREADS AFTER MI loses control

rising FUEL price hits Travelers’ pockets

HRP declined overture from Burmese military

YOUTHS LEAD MON NATIONAL DAY

CANADIAN FOREIGN POLICY REVIEWED BY BURMA FORUM

NCGUB PRIME MINISTER VISITS FINLAND

THE DIVERSE MINDSETS OF BURMESE POLITICAL CULTURES

CHINS CELEBRATE CENTENNIAL YEAR OF CHRISTIANITY


READERS’ FRONT

Dear Readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kao-Wao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kao-Wao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma . And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

Regards,

Editor

kaowao@hotmail.com, kaowao_news@yahoo.ca

www.kaowao.org

_______________________________

I read with interest of Kao Wao News No.78 that Col Nai Pan Nyunt is classified as a Guerrilla Leader, so I read my dictionary to see what it meant. It states" a member of an unofficial armed force fighting a regular force or forces". So then I ask by what is called official and by who. So if Col Pan Nyunt and the HRP are classified as Guerrillas then that also must put New Mon State Party and it's leaders in this same category (and any other Ethnic group formed to fight the SPCD).  If this is not so when did the New Mon State party become an official force and who declared it an official force. In my heart I would wish that all Mon people could come to an agreement and stand up for themselves against the SPCD for your own rights. I have seen especially over the last 6 years that the sight has been lost and only self gain and power is being achieved by a few with the majority being kicked down further.

Ramonya Australian Group

Sherryl Allen

_____________________________________

Dear Kao Wao,

I am very impressed with your news about the activities of Thai Mons and publication of Mon Community Rights in Thai.   As a Mon from Monland, I was raised with many legends and stories by my parents how our two Mons were separated in the past.  I was eagerly hoping to meet our brothers and sisters of Thai Mons while I was in Burma .  All my dreams turned into disappointment when I met them while I came to Thailand .  Many Thai Mons do not speak our language and even look down on us as refugees or migrant workers seeking better lives in their kingdom.  I hope your publication will develop some relation between the two Mons .  

Kun Dein-Mon

Bangkok , Thailand


YAA BAA MAGIC

(Taramon/ Sangkhlaburi: December 6, 2004)

Hunters in the Three pagodas Pass border town use Yaa-baa pills in a ritual to placate the spirit world to bring on more wild life during hunting, a village headman from the border said.

Talking to Kao Wao under the condition of anonymity the headman explained, “The hunters in the village (his village) buy Yaa-baa speed pills to placate the spirits adding to traditional beliefs.”

Local hunters find that using the speeding pill is good to placate the spirits when they head off into the jungle to hunt wildlife animals, such as deer, pig, gibbon and monkey.  It is used to improve the power of the hunter and bring on the animals. 

Yaa baa, he says is expensive to buy in the area, one pill is worth around 200 Baht but it is not difficult to get.  The village headman claims that he cannot crack down on drug smugglers due to his safety even though he knows who are involved.

Since local people along the border area have little in the way of job opportunities, and thus little income to buy food, their survival depends on hunting the wildlife, which is cheap compared to buying livestock meat in the market.  At Three Pagodas Pass town, one kilogram of Gang (one species of monkey) or deer is about 13 Thai baht and one kilo of wild pig is around 100, and beef or pork is 100 baht per kilo in the market.

Gang is the most popular meat among residents in the border area, the headman said. Thais from other provinces such as Bangkok come to the border and buy the wildlife meat, he further added.


corruption SPREADS AFTER MI LOSES CONTROL

(Taingtaw, November 30, 2004)

Telephone users in Mon and Karen States are facing higher extortion from local authorities after the fall of Military Intelligence in the country, Kao Wao has learned.

Local SPDC military commanders, police and special branch units go from door to door to phone owners including illegal phone users in townships and ask for high taxes, reported a young man who participated in Mon Youth Progressive Organization from Mon state.

“In the past, there is only the Military Intelligence (MI) but now there are the army, police and SB, who come around asking for money,” he added.

“At the end of the month the owners would usually see the MI but now the authorities come to us.  They have asked for around ten to fifteen thousand kyat,” he added.  Some satellite phone owners in Karen and Mon States who are linked with the cease-fire groups bribe the DKBA and NMSP to operate their business instead of paying to the SPDC.

“I have to pay the Mon (NMSP) and Karen (DKBA),” complained a satellite phone owner in Karen state under the condition of anonymity. Many of his friends involve in illegal phone transactions and money exchange business between traders and migrant workers in Thailand , Malaysia and Singapore .

Some phone owners have stopped doing their business due to the increase in high taxes and widespread corruption; they have no profit from their business.

“We hand over all our profit to them (SPDC), but not for us,” another Mon businessman who recently arrived to the Three Pagodas Pass Thai Burma border reported.

Many villages in Mon and Karen states have satellite phones bought in from Thailand , which are used mostly for black market money exchange by migrant community. Thousands of Thai Baht are exchanged into Burmese Kyat, which makes it way back into migrant workers to support families at home in Burma .


rising FUEL price hits Travelers’ pockets

(IMNA: December 4, 2004)

The price of fuel is slowly jumping up in Southern Burma because of the difficulty of getting fuel from Rangoon , according to fuel customers.

The price of a gallon of petrol, 2,100 kyat in the previous month, is now 2,400 kyat. The price of a gallon of diesel, 2,200 kyat in the previous month, has now jumped to 2,500 kyat.  Fuel prices slowly jumped up although Myanmar Petroleum Products Enterprise (MPPE) gives oil to people who own vehicles and have licenses, said Nai Min Tun, a Moulmein (Mawlamyine) fuel seller.

But the Burmese military government’s Ministry of Energy (ME) reduced sales of oil 50% to owners of vehicles registered with the government, according to car owners in Southern Burma .

It makes oil prices jump because the oil company in Rangoon can’t distribute the amount we ordered.  We are still enquiring,” he added.

MRTV and The Myanmar Times Journal reported on September 27 that the military government Ministry of Energy planned to reduce the need for imported oil, a crisis in which the world community faces. Moreover, the government planned to shift vehicle engines from using oil to gas.

We are reluctant of traveling from Ye to Moulmein . It costs more than 1,500 kyat per person. If we compare it to last year it has jumped a lot. We only had to pay about 1,000 kyat for that journey,” said Myit Htay, a traveler.

We don’t want to collect soaring prices from travelers, but if we do not collect as much as this price, we cannot have a route. We have no benefits,” said a car owner, who did not want to identify himself for security reasons.


HRP declined overture from Burmese military

(Independent Mon News Agency: December 2, 2004)

The Burma Army launched a military operation in the Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP) based area and sent overtures to the HRP for a cease-fire after its headquarters was captured in fighting by Karen National Liberation Army and Muslin armed group, the HRP chairman said.

“Our man reported to me that the BA launched seven military operations against us, and recently the Burmese troops also sent overtures to our troops for a cease-fire with the help of a Thai army officer,” said Colonel Pan Nyunt who is recovering from wounds.

“Our man replied back that I was not back there and they can not make any decision for the cease-fire and denied meeting the Burmese military troop’s commander.  If there is no benefit to Mon people, we do not make cease-fires and surrender,” said Nai Pan Nyunt who recently can walk with a small wound still on his leg.

“There is regular fighting between the HRP and Burmese troops. Some Burmese soldiers have died in the battle,” Nai Pan Nyunt claimed, but said none of his people were wounded or died.

The HRP had received overtures by the Burmese military government in the past and in February the HRP denied a cease-fire talk after the Burmese military government changed the discussion place from Thai territory to Burma .

According to Nai Pan Nyunt, the Burmese military surrounded his troops and headquarters, whose arms decreased after the capture by KNU and Muslin armed groups.  The HRP movement also has decreased in Southern Mon State and Northern Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) division after the military operations launched by the BA for a year.


Youths in Canada will lead the upcoming 58th anniversary of the Mon national day celebration to be held in February 2005.

YOUTH LEAD MON NATIONAL DAY

(Kao Wao: Calgary , November 30, 2004)

The Calgary based Mon Canadian Society organized a meeting in Calgary on Saturday November 27 and formed the Mon National Day Committee.

A major difference from previous years and other Mon communities worldwide is that all of its core committee members are comprised of youths and young adults eager to do things different.  The strongest Mon community in Canada , MCS selected Mr. Mon Sorn Mon as Chairman, Ms. Layeh Mon as Vice-Chairwoman, Ms. Pyah Sorn as Secretary, Mehm Pamoik Chan Mon as Joint Secretary, Mehm Mon Sai, Ms. Ai Nondae and Saora Ong as core committee members.

The raring to go team formed subcommittees for decoration, cultural performance, food and beverage, and finance.  “We are confident we will do better with new ideas and fresh energy.  However, we will learn experience from our leaders,” insisted a newly appointed MND core member.

Worldwide, Mon communities in the USA , Australia and Asia also formed Mon National Day committees in their respective countries. 

Mon National Day annual celebration is celebrated in many locales around the world and back home at various venues in Burma and Thailand . In the West, the Mon community invites distinguished guests like the city mayor and political figures and other western friends to attend the colorful and happy celebration, which is a unique blend of past and modern Mon culture.


Activism

CANADIAN FOREIGN POLICY REVIEWED BY BURMA FORUM

(Kao Wao: November 26, 2004)

"The Burma Forum Report: Assessment of Canadian foreign policy on Burma " has been published both in print and on the internet by Burma Forum Canada , a Canadian network of Burmese democracy advocates in-exile and their supporters

Reported by event organizer Tin Maung Htoo, the report has 47 pages, along with historical photos, graphs and charts. Beginning with a brief backgrounder on Burma , the Report illuminates Canada-Burma relations including Canada 's military involvement in
the "Burma Campaign" of WWII. It then analyzes Canadian foreign policy toward Burma , especially assessing the limited economic measure adopted by Canada in 1997, and further analyzes trade data and investment matters.

Importantly, the Report also offers an assessment of the viability of Canada 's current Capacity Building Project, which was intended to strengthen Burmese civil society, especially along the Thai-Burma border.

The Report also makes a number of recommendations to the Government of Canada, including: providing more direct support to the Burmese democratic movement in both moral and material terms; continuing assistance to Burmese refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh; increasing its contribution in UN specialized agencies' initiatives in Burma; initiating direct assistance to those most economically marginalized inside Burma (provided this is managed, monitored and offered independent of the corrupt Burmese military junta).

The Report is the product of the policy group, Burma Forum Canada , which was convened July 3-4, 2004 in Ottawa with the aim of drawing attention to the plight of Burmese people under continuing dictatorship. It is particularly targeted at Canadian politicians, policy-makers and human rights activists, as well as the Canadian public in general.

For more info
contact: Tin Maung Htoo by email: mhtin@uwo.ca or Kyaw Moe kyawmoe@burmesecommunityservice.org and
www.burmaforum.org


NCGUB PRIME MINISTER VISITS FINLAND

(Reported by Chittun in Helsinki : December 7, 2004)

Dr. Sein Win, Prime Minister of National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) and Dr. Thaung Htun, NCGUB   Representative of UN Affairs arrive in Helsinki , Finland today. They are welcomed by the Finnish based organizations; CDB (Campaign for Democracy in Burma , Finland ), Finnish-Burma Committee, and Finnish-Mon Association at the Helsinki International Airport . The next day leaders of government in exile and representatives from CDB and Finnish-Mon Association meet Chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee of Finnish Parliament and the NCGUB delegation continues to visit Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Dr. Sein win will also give a press conference.

Then the Prime Minister will visit Burmese Community in Kuopio , 400 kilometer away from Helsinki . The visit is organized by CDB in cooperation with Finnish-Burma Committee and Finnish-Mon Association to gain more support for seeking international pressure on the ruling military regime, State Peace and Development Council and to meet with the Burmese community in Finland


The third part series on the role of the military and civil society in Burma

THE DIVERSE MINDSETS OF BURMESE POLITICAL CULTURES

(By Banyar Hongsar, Canberra , Australia )

The Bigger Picture

Talented men and women from Burma (all nationalities) are prepared to contribute in the nation building process, but they are leaving in the hundreds of thousands, being driven out by poverty, conflict, and human rights violations to neighboring countries and to a third country like Canada, the United States and Japan.

The Burmese military after reaching a ceasefire with the different groups should have found a way to establish reconciliation within the country. This is the major problem. The SPDC needs to put the country’s national interest ahead of its military power and abolish the policy of “Burmanization”, a policy that directly discriminates all forms of freedom. The leaders of the cease-fire groups, members of political parties both in Rangoon and other capitals and senior religious leaders (all religions) must all come forward and carefully review what has gone wrong in the country for so many years. 

Corruption reigns supreme in all sectors, along with the spread of HIV/AIDS which threatens to reach epidemic levels in rural villages in the coming years, linked with under age marriage, illegal abortion, and lack of health education for women and children in the community. All leaders simply cannot continue to pray and spread the water to alleviate poverty and common diseases, like malaria and tuberculosis, uneducated children, young men and women are all at a high risk in the country.  Military men have to abide by military law and order, and civilians must obey common law and order, no one should be above the law.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed by the army and everyday local villagers are abused or killed by the army, women are raped, children left homeless, families are displaced, and activists jailed and tortured.  The legal system is non-existent and administrative power is under the boots of the military men who line their pockets with extorted money. It is not to suggest that all victims and members of remaining families forgive all atrocities and wrong doings committed by the Burma army, but the government must start to bring these people to face a court that will prosecute them, it is their responsibility to do this after reaching a ceasefire agreement.

Civil war and armed conflict as well as political tension have gripped Burmese society for decades and the Burmese people must find the answer to the question of “what went wrong” and build a legal system to initiate public healing, national reconciliation and legal compensation by the future government.  The new government must have a mandate to bring justice to those victims and give public voice to those who want to be heard in the legal proceedings.

The United Nations, the ASEAN, the EU and US leaders are only able to lend a helping hand to Burma ’s affairs, but citizens of Burma and leaders of the country have to keep in mind that these leaders have their own tasks to do at their offices. Burma ’s political community and leaders all have to engage with the local people and focus on local problem solving techniques while receiving a hand from foreign countries.  Millions of dollars and tons of resources have been granted to Burma ’s cause but there has been no significant sign of reaching a common goal.

“For a political transition to succeed in Burma democratic practices need to be included and a division of political power must be resolved in such a way that most people feel satisfied.  After centuries under the absolutist rule of kings and decades under repressive military generals, people in Burma today have little experience with democratic norms.  Even today members of the pro-democracy movement find it difficult to develop the openness and tolerance required in a democratic culture”, Christina Fink concluded in her book “Living Silence” in 2001.  Military men have ignored any recommendations of Burma ’s experts and instead remain hardnosed in finding their own political solution in the country.

Beyond party and secular politics

Currently military men have a strong position in playing political games with the opposition groups.  A civilian led political party led by Daw Suu Kyi and former veteran politicians stand firmly on democratic principles while the military men stand on “a modern nation” regardless of public opinion and popularity of the opposition party.  Common border based non-Burman armed leaders and their political organizations stick rigorously to their position of “self-determination” while the Rangoon based military men totally reject that for the beginning of Burma independence. A progressive leader or leaders must have a common political doctrine to mobilize the situation of the country, but most fall back on the ground of “party’s politics” or “organizational interests”. There is a void of communication among the different groups that hampers a political dialogue to reform the country.

Logically the SPDC say they are upholding the Union , the NLD represents “democracy” and the rest of non-Burman leaders stand for “Federalism”. No leader and organization has ever attempted to go beyond “party’s politics” while the whole population cries for peace, equality, and a secure and just society.  There are many liberal conservatives, progressive democrats and people powered Labor activists and old guards of Communists in Burmese political life.  Over the last ten years, urban-based businessmen closely linked with military men, academics and students remain loyal to the anti-SPDC faction.

A culture of new politics is required to give voice to the local grassroots people, they must be heard and theirs concerns brought to the table.  All armed and political factions must protect women and children and the new generation and progressive leaders both in the military circles and civil society have to be in touch with community life.  Businessmen and investors must see to it that they play a fair game in the new political environment watched over by the media and formal regulations.

The military, linked to business interests, control all the resources and have open access to the economy and capital markets, thus retarding civil society development, political institutions and infrastructure in the country. They must place themselves beyond their personal and party’s interest to meet the challenges of the global environment.

According to U Soe Thinn, Head of the Burmese Service of Radio Free Asia in the Burma Debate in 2000 explained that “most of the Burmese people in the period following independence would think about politics as “party politics” and if you asked a lay-man to define politics, he would probably describe it as a vying for power. Politicians will do anything to get to a position of power, whether they conduct good governance or not is subject to the question”. Burmese political culture has not reached beyond party politics, many current politicians still grip onto their position for power bargaining based on their old ideological constructs.

In 1988 there were countless organizations in Rangoon involved in the uprising that formed strike camps in the struggle for democracy. In the mid 1990s there were only a few organizations on the Thai-Burma border except for the armed groups. Soon after the students who left the jungle and entered into Thailand for security or sanctuary formed dozens of new political organizations in Thailand at the end of the decade, now over fifty organizations in Thailand and many more in exile are active. 

Seeds of democracy

Each organization speaks the jargon of “democracy and federalism” but in reality leaders of the organizations have minimal human and financial resources to achieve common goals.  Sadly, there are millions of migrant workers in Thailand , Malaysia and Singapore who have no communication link to leaders in the Thailand based political organizations.  Both legal and illegal migrant workers have strong financial resources but most of their income goes toward personal and family expenditures.  If the people of Burma (all nationalities) have it in their mind to change the political situation, to mobilize their energies on a common front then they can take charge in the campaign for the struggle of freedom in a very big way. These migrant workers have been left behind the political circle for years, satisfied with reading newspapers that are published by exile-based organizations, they represent a major political force of change in the country and we need to pay attention to them.

Currently the worse state of affairs is that many activists based in Thailand , India and along the common border have no legal protection in regard to migration law, but have been given some consideration by the local Thai authorities. Unless activists’ organizations and common border based leaders and their people have sufficient financial and technical resources, it will be hard to overcome the massive obstacles they face in the political arena. Burmese observers, experts and activists based in exile have to closely engage with these people as well as the local community for better communication and cooperation.  It is not in the interests of the whole community that individual interests are placed before national interests.  Despite the fact that local and state actors have a different set of ideologies and interests on national affairs; they could share common concerns, visions, and beliefs as human kind and fellow citizens.

Example of simple campaign:

There are many campaigns in which the citizens can start to change Burma . If one million Burmese write a letter to US President George Bush, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan or General Than Shwe in one day, tons of letters will be delivered to their offices.  If one million public workers and public servants decide to strike and shut down Rangoon , they can stay home for a month and let the Burma ’s army do the job. If exile based Burma ’s activists contribute a dollar a day for Daw Suu Kyi, she can have a mobile phone to ring CNN, ABC and BBC everyday.

If US, EU and UN distribute (10) million radio sets to Burma , people in the country can listen to radio news from BBC, VOA and RFA daily; the SPDC simply cannot stop the people from listening. The only news, reports, books and a few documentaries from the outside world on poverty, human rights abuses, armed conflicts and refugees are found on the border.  The pro-democracy media born in the 1990s and the foreign media are the only ones able to report on Burma’s internal affairs and after 2000, dozens of NGOs from foreign countries stationed in Rangoon and other capitals to undertake humanitarian assistances are helping to change things in which local people admire the work of NGOs and their programs being implemented in the country. Young people in Burma have learned the meaning of “NGOs”, locally known as “pa-ra-hi-ta” association.

Conclusion

All citizens in the country have to adopt a “What If” theory, being able to anticipate what will come next, as westerners have done for the last two centuries while undertaking a principle of “do your best, don’t harm others” a logical theory for democracy and human rights. As long as Burma ’s different nationalities intimidate one another, a nation of death and self-interested individuals will rule over the country and we will all have to face the ugly consequences. Over fifty million people share the same water, land, climate and forestry, so it makes sense that we all need to share common burdens taking responsibility for our own cultural identity and national heritage.

Author’s note:

This article was not intended to be an academic study paper, but as a fellow citizen of the country, I felt that there is something wrong in Burmese political culture and that something needed to be said, taking long periods of time to reflect and to identify what is holding back the country. As someone who grew up in armed conflict zones I have on many occasions faced conflicts between Burman and non-Burman ethnic groups for over thirty years and have endeavored to put forward plain ideas and a basic theory for a simple solution to the country.

*Banya Hongsar is a Mon Journalist who studied Buddhism in Burma and currently is finishing his Diploma of Communication and Media at Canberra Institute of Technology in Australia .


CHINS CELEBRATE CENTENNIAL YEAR OF CHRISTIANITY

By Salai Za Uk Ling & Salai Bawi Lian Mang (Chinland Guardian)

Dallas , Texas , 28 November 2004: They maybe driven out of their homes and forced to seek refuge in foreign lands, but this Christian group from a predominantly Buddhist country is celebrating a century of their faith in Christianity. A persecuted ethnic group, Chin people belong to one of the eight main nationalities in Burma , a military-ruled Southeast Asian country of 50 million populations.

From 26-27 November, Chin people from across the United States gathered in Dallas , Texas to mark a centennial year of Christianity in their community. They remember the first Chin converts, Thuam Hang and Pau Suan, who exactly a century ago in 1904 had embraced Christianity at Khuasak, a small village in Sizang area of the Chin Hills.

More than 300 people attended the celebration, representing more than 10 Chin Churches from Michigan , Maryland , Oklahoma , Florida , Indiana , Illinois , New York and Georgia . Participants hail from various Chin sub-groups such as Asho, Kuki, Laimi, Zomi etc. Prominent Chin individuals include Rev. Dr. Chin Do Kham from International Christian University in Chicago, Sayakyi Salai Ba Thaung Tin, Rev. Dr. Steven Hre Kio, Rev. Seikhokam, Rev. Dr. Sang Awr from Princeton University , Zing Cung, Vice Chairman of Chin National Front and Pu Lian Uk , Member of Parliament elect from Haka constituency.

Rev. Dr. Lindell Anderson, a retired US Army colonel, Ms. Patty Lane, International Initiative for Baptist General Convention for Texas and Mr. Florence, Multicultural Strategist and head of the Asia Caucus for the American Baptist Churches were also in attendance.

One of the largest gatherings ever organized by Chin community in exile, the celebration is seen as not just symbolic but as having enormous political and social significance.

“It’s not just that we are celebrating the centenary for what it is,” said Rev. Dr. Chum Awi, Chairman of the Chin Christian Centenary Celebration Committee, “We are showing solidarity with our people inside the Chin State in Burma who are persecuted for their religious belief and ethnic identity.” He said the event is a good educational tool for younger Chin generations to better appreciate their religious and cultural roots. And for many of the participants, in the face of enduring persecution at home, the celebration means a time for spiritual renewal and to reflect on the past as a century of evolution of Christianity in the Chin society.

“The graceful presence of Siangbawi nu le pa makes the event particularly meaningful,” commented one participant coming from Maryland . She was referring to the guest of honours of the celebration Rev. and Mrs Johnsons, an American couple and the last missionaries who worked among the Chin for 26 years until they were kicked out of the country by General Ne Win’s Revolutionary Council, which took over power from a democratically elected government in 1962. Burma has been under a military dictatorship ever since.

The celebration, held at The Fairmont Dallas Hotel, drew Chin people from all walks of life. Pu Lian Uk , a veteran lawyer and an elected Member of Parliament during the 1990 general elections in Burma , was among those participants. While acknowledging the irony that the celebration is held in the United States instead of in Chinland, Pu Lian Uk said, “It might have been God-plan, a blessing in disguise, to show to the American people how the work of the American missionaries have transformed the life of Chin people half way across the globe.” A lifetime promoter of Chin cultural and traditional heritage, Pu Lian Uk helped put together a “Chin cultural exhibition” as part of the many programs during the celebration. To help better preserve the Chin traditional and cultural heritage, Pu Lian Uk calls on the American Baptist Churches to assist in the establishment of a “ Cultural Museum ” in the Chin State capital of Hakha.

Another program during the celebration is a meeting of Chin youths living in North America . Organizers say the meeting will help create greater awareness of what is at stake in the Chin society. A London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide CSW in a recent report says that Burma ’s ruling military regime, State Peace and Development Council has been importing large quantities of crude industrial alcohol to the Chin State in an effort to corrupt Chin youngsters and to strike at the root of Chin Christianity.

“As ironic as it maybe,” says Rev. Dr. Chum Awi, a former government attorney and former Secretary General of Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention, “Here we can practice our religion freely without worrying about the Burmese military suppressing and interfering in what we do as Christians. Chin Churches here in America serve not only as religious venues but also as institutions where we can freely teach our children our culture and language.”

Background of the Chin and Christianity

In 1899, during the British colonial rule, a missionary couple, Arthur E. and Laura Carson from the American Baptist Mission (Now American Baptist Churches) set foot in the Chin Hills of what is now known as the Chin State of western Burma. They established a mission center at Haka, the present day capital of Chin State . The Chin, until conquered a decade earlier by the British, were never under the rule of outsiders, and had enjoyed autonomy under their own indigenous administrative system headed by local chiefs. Traditionally fierce fighters who resisted the British occupation with unsurpassed courage, one British soldier earned the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross during a battle with Chin resistant forces.

Before the arrival of American missionaries, Chins worshipped indigenous religion or animism, having an established set of religious and cultural customs that governed their societal behaviour. The Chin had a concept of creator god, Khua-zing, who governs the universe, and a guardian god, Khua-hrum, a god who protects the clans of the family and the village. Lian Hmung Sakhong, in his published PhD thesis on “Religion and Politics among the Chin People in Burma (1986-1949),” argues Christianity and the Chin indigenous religion have much conceptual commonness, despite the fact that early Christian missionaries discouraged the practice of traditional Chin religious and cultural customs.

In 1904, Thuam Hang and Pau Suan from Khuasak village of northern Chin Hills converted to Christianity. A year later, they were baptized to become the first fruits of Western missionaries’ work among the Chins. In 1906, Sia Khaw[*] of Haka and Thang Sun of Lumbang were baptized, opening up a new era in the transformation of Chin society and the evolution of Christianity. In the words of Arthur Carson, with the baptism of the first Chin converts, there was a “Daybreak in Chin Hills.” A century later, more than 90 per cent Chins have become Christians.

Christianity Suppressed in Burma

The Chins, like many other ethnic groups in Burma , are subject to a multitude of human rights abuse by the country’s military regime, whose members are made up entirely of Buddhists. Except in exceptional circumstances, the highest rank a Christian can be promoted in the Burma Army is a Major. A state with more than 90 per cent of its population Christians, the Chin people have been targets of systematic persecutions by Burmese military—actions that involve the deliberate destruction of church buildings, the desecration of religiously symbolic monuments such as crosses and government’s attempts to convert Christians to Buddhism by highly coercive means. An annual report by the US State Department since 1999 has included Burma on a special watch list—as Country of Particular Concern or CPC that violates freedom of religion. A recent report independently compiled by Chin Human Rights Organization entitled “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma” concludes that there is systematic effort by Burma’s ruling military regime to Buddhistize Chin Christians in order to assimilate them into Burman identity, the country’s dominant ethnic group. 

In 1999, a centennial celebration marking the arrival of the first missionaries was deliberately disrupted by Burmese military regime by unilaterally postponing the event and by arbitrarily limiting the number of people who could attend the event. The regime ordered the destruction of a centennial cross erected in remembrance of the first missionaries in Thantlang town while decreeing that construction of a centennial memorial building in Haka is closed down. Several invitees to the centennial celebration from abroad, including Rev. and Mrs Johnsons, the last missionaries to work among the Chins had had their visa applications refused by the Burmese military regime in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the event.##

**Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Editor-In-Chief of Rhododendron News and Director of Ottawa-based Chin Human Rights Organization, is currently an International Visiting Scholar at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley . With Salai Za Uk Ling, he co-authored a 2004 human rights report “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide against Chin Christians in Burma

**Salai Za Uk Ling, Associate Editor of Rhododendron News, a bimonthly publication of Chin Human Rights Organization,  and co-author of “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide against Chin Christians in Burma”  is studying  Political Science at Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Canada

[*] Sia Khaw is the maternal grandfather of co-author Salai Za Uk Ling. Sia Khaw is buried with Rev. Arthur Carson, the first American Baptist Missionary to Chinland, in a cemetery in Haka, Chin State capital.


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ABOUT US

Kaowao Newsgroup is committed to social justice, peace, and democracy in Burma .  We hope to be able to provide more of an in-depth analysis that will help to promote lasting peace and change within Burma . Editors, reporters, writers, and overseas volunteers are dedicated members of the Mon activist community based in Thailand .

Our motto is working together for lasting peace and change.

        

 

 

 

 

                                                                    Copyright 2004, Kaowao.org. All Rights Reserved.
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