January 28, 2009

IV. Abuses Committed by Ethnic Opposition Groups

These underground groups, rather than being a help, make life even more difficult for us.
-Chin church leader now living in Mizoram, India [226]

The Chin National Front (CNF) and its armed branch, the Chin National Army (CNA), is the largest organization within the Chin resistance movement. Alleged abuses by the CNF/CNA tend to undermine its legitimacy among the Chin people. Some members of the CNF/CNA are accused of extorting money from villagers, and harassing, beating, and committing other abuses against villagers.

Many problems with the CNF stem from its policy of collecting periodic "donations" from villagers to support its operations. L.R., a woman from Paletwa township, described this process:

                       

When the CNF comes, sometimes they ask for money. Usually they ask for 3,000 Kyat (US$2.50) per house for one year, or they'll ask for food, rice, or sometimes shoes and clothes. They collect the donations by designating a meeting point somewhere near the border. After the village council leaders collect the donations from the villagers, they send one of the village youth to secretly bring the donations to the meeting point.[227]

Another man from Falam township explained:

We never meet the CNA personally. They are based in Mizoram and they collect donations from the villagers. They tell the village headman the amount of donation they want from the village. Then the headman asks the villagers to give money. They come only once a year and they ask for donations from the entire village-usually 400,000 Kyat (US$333)…. We could not refuse to provide the donation. We have to comply with their request. If we refuse, we are afraid that our village might suffer so we always pay.[228]

T.B.L., a teacher from Thantlang township indicated that he ultimately fled Chin State in 1991 after becoming exhausted by the CNA's practice of collecting money from villagers. He said:

[The CNA] collected donations from us many times. I was tired of giving so many donations so I came to Mizoram because I want to live in a democracy.[229]

The Joint-General Secretary, External Affairs Department of the CNF Sui Khar spoke with Human Rights Watch and confirmed that villagers were asked to donate 3,000 Kyat (US$2.50) per household per year until 2007. He said this amount was based on the cost of one chicken.[230] He claimed this amount was reduced to only 10 Kyat per year in August 2007.[231]

While some people said they paid willingly, others told Human Rights Watch that they were coerced to contribute and found the amounts onerous.

A woman from Thantlang township reported that sometimes if people in her village did not have enough money, the village leaders would take their property and sell it to pay the CNA.[232]

T.B.L., quoted above, described how the CNA threatens and abuses Chin villagers:

Sometimes [the CNA] ask villagers for money and threaten to beat them if they do not pay. If someone does not want to give a donation, the CNA will say, "If you do not give us money, then we'll burn down your village," or "We'll beat you if you don't give us money." I've never heard of them burning down any villages. Sometimes they actually beat people who failed to provide a donation. Most villagers are afraid so they just provide the money.[233]

 

The CNA also collects money from cross-border traders traveling to India. M.V., a 19-year-old woman from Paletwa township who has been working as a cross-border trader since 2004, told Human Rights Watch:

The amount that we have to pay depends on what we are bringing. If we are bringing cattle, then we have to pay 2,000 Rupees (US$44). If we are bringing vegetables, then we have to pay maybe 300 Rupees (US$6.60). If we refuse to pay the CNF, we are afraid that they will beat us. I heard from other cross-border traders that the CNF has beaten some people before so I am afraid.[234]

Another woman from Paletwa township who travelled back and forth to Mizoram as a cross-border trader since 2000 told Human Rights Watch of an incident when CNA soldiers threatened to hold her captive overnight unless she paid the money demanded.

The CNA forces us to pay money in order to bring vegetables to sell in Mizoram. When we try to bring vegetables to Mizoram, they request 300 to 400 Rupees (US$6.60 to 8.80). One time I didn't have the money to pay them. They told me that I either had to find the money or I would have to stay the night with them. I was afraid they might try to rape me so I went to some nearby villages and borrowed money.[235]

[226]Human Rights Watch interview with S.T., Aizawl, Mizoram, India, July 2005.

[227]Human Rights Watch interview with L.R., Saiha, Mizoram, India, March 7, 2008.

[228]  Human Rights Watch interview with M.S.S., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, April 14, 2008.

[229]Human Rights Watch interview with T.B.L., Lunglei, Mizoram, India, March 4, 2008.

[230] Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Sui Khar, the Joint General Secretary of the CNF, External Affairs Department, Chiang Mai, Thailand, May 30, 2008.

[231]Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Sui Khar, the Joint General Secretary of the CNF, External Affairs Department, Chiang Mai, Thailand, May 30, 2008. See also "CNF to Reduce Tax Imposed in Chin State," Khonumthung News, February 4, 2008.

[232]Human Rights Watch interview with T.T., Lawngtlai, Mizoram, March 5, 2008.

[233]Human Rights Watch interview with T.B.L., Lunglei, Mizoram, India, March 4, 2008.

[234]Human Rights Watch interview with M.V., Saiha, Mizoram, March 7, 2008.

[235]Human Rights Watch interview with K.S.L., Saiha, Mizoram, March 7, 2008.