Interview with Colonel Ral Hnin, Chief of Staff, Chin National Army
January 20, 2003 – Camp Victoria
Chinland Guardian: Thank you for sparing your time and
giving us a chance to interview you.
Colonel Ral Hnin: It is my pleasure and I consider talking with you as a window of opportunity for me.
Could you please narrate for us your biography in brief? We would like to know about your activities before your association with the revolutionary movement and then details, if possible, of your responsibility in the wake of joining the Chin National Front.
Colonel Ral Hnin: I was born at Leitak village of Thantlang township Chin state. However, I grew up and studied mostly in Falam and Haka towns. In the year 1984 I passed my matriculation from Thantlang town, which qualified me to continue pursuing my further education at Mandalay University. I studied there from 1984 to 1988, specializing in history as my major. During my university life in Mandalay, I served as general secretary of the Hakha-Thantlang students association from 1986-87 and as secretary of Chin Literature and Culture Committee in University of Mandalay from 1987-88 respectively.
Following the nationwide pro-democracy movement in 1988, which resulted in the closing of all the universities, colleges and schools in Burma, I returned to stay with my parents at my hometown, Thantlang. During that time I was one of the leaders of the Thantlang township students taking part in the incessant pro-democracy demonstrations. A few days later, following the military generals having seized state power by cracking down on the pro-democracy movement with brutal force on 18th September 1988, I left to the border area and stayed at the Champhai Refugee Camp.
With twin aims of bringing about a genuine democracy by toppling the military rule, and attaining self-determination for the Chin peoples within the Union of Burma, I joined the Chin National Front on 27th January 1989. Later, I went to Kachin State where I completed my basic military training. In 1992 I went back to India-Burma border, and then moved on to the Chin National Army Camp in 1993 during the rainy season. The post I held include as follow;
1992-95, 2nd in-charge of Central Command,
1996-97 in-charge of Northern Command,
1996-1998 General Staff Officer of Chin National Army,
1998-2000 Vice Chief of Staff, and currently I serve as CNA’s Chief of Staff since the year 2000. I have been a Central Committee Member of our Party Chin National Front since 1995.
Chinland Guardian: We would like to question you regarding the Chin National Army CNA. We have learned that you have closed the border trade between India and Burma. Is it true?
Colonel Ral Hnin: Yes, it is true that we closed border trade between India and Burma.
Chinland Guardian: Furthermore we have heard that Chin people are being greatly affected by this closure of commercial trade route. In addition, people were injured from an exploding landmine that had been planted by the CNA and we have even heard that two women traders were being shot at. Is that true?
Colonel Ral Hnin: Well, first of all, I would like to comment on the issue of border trade and the rumors that Chin people are being affected by the CNA’s closure of border trade between India and Burma. Firstly, are the Chin people in Burma only suffering through a scarcity of food, hunger, deprivation and difficulties in earning their daily livelihood due to financial hardships?
Secondly, do we ever sincerely question ourselves what is the root cause of our daily suffering?
If we deeply and broadly examine the root problem of Chin people’s suffering at this juncture, it is not a result of the CNA’s existence or its policy of blocking commercial trade on the Indo-Burma border. That I strongly believe. The Chins in Burma are not the only victims; they are not alone in suffering all these difficulties and these day-to-day hardships. The whole Union of Burma is in the same situation. As a mater of fact, I think we all accept this point. I think it is not worthwhile comparing our financial situation, our living conditions and our hardships with that of other nationalities inside Burma. In saying this, I do not mean that we should suffer and face problems.
What we want is that all of us should be richly prosperous in all our various work and we should have no obstacles or problems in attaining our livelihood in our motherland. This is the very reason why we keep fighting, despite all sorts of unbearable difficulties that we face in our continual struggle for our people, from the jungles and in the urban areas. We withstand all sorts of staunch hardship. Our suffering is rooted in the military leadership that swept away the civilian government in March 1962. Burma is a multinational country. In a nutshell, for the development of a country like Burma that is composed of diverse ethnic nationalities, the ruling system and economic system itself must correspond to its diversity.
However, not only is there a failure to frame the system that best suits our plural society, but we are being ruled with through military might by applying the Burmanization policy. So long as this military junta, controlled by generals and whose policies and activities are condemned by the whole world, survives in Burma, we will face endless hardships. So, what I would like to say here and earnestly urge everyone is that I want all of us to deeply and widely, and with sincerity, find and understand what really is the root cause of our hardships and why we are undergoing all these problems. I believe that only then will we have a chance to be free from all these tragedies and sufferings.
Regarding the landmimes, I want to tell you and the people who read this interview that the CNA has never planted landmines to target civilians and it will never ever do so in the future.
Even if we placed landmines, it was with the sole purpose of securing our camp and during other operations when the circumstances demanded it necessary. I would like our people as a whole to know about this. I would like to express here that we too offer our deep regret and share the grief felt by families when the landmine unfortunately hurt our people.
Regarding the question of shooting at the trading women or men, we have never shot at the civilians intentionally and we will never be doing that in the future. Even if such unfortunate and tragic incident takes place by accident, it would only be because of them being hit by crossfire when we were engaged in battle with the Burmese military forces. There is nothing more to say except that we take this issue very seriously.
Chinland Guardian: We have heard that your soldiers, member of Chin National Army, sometimes misbehave with civilians inside village or towns. Can you comment about that?
Colonel Ral Hnin: Yes, we heard this complaint and we do profoundly feel uncomfortable about this. As the saying goes, “for one rotten fish, the whole boat get smelly” for one soldier’s misbehavior, the whole CNA are affected. It causes us a lot of problems and we are very concerned about this. Here, I would like to compare the revolutionary force and the people like water and fish. A fish cannot live without water, and like wise, a revolutionary forces like CNF can not survive without the supports of our people. As we are working to liberate our people, it is obvious that we cannot survive without the civilians’ supports. Therefore, as members of CNA are the children of our mother Chinland, I would like to beg forgiveness from our mother Chinland for any mistakes sometimes committed by our soldiers and we, from the head office, always take action against any individual soldier who misbehaves as soon as we hear about it. In this regard, I always remind our people to report to us immediately and without hesitation whenever they see any of our soldiers’ misbehaving or mistreating civilians. In this way, we can work hand in hand together with our people. Furthermore, I would like to clarify here that to commit such wrongs is not the policy of the CNF/A and it only occurs due to mistakes by individuals.
Chinland Guardian: We would kike to hear your relationship with other ethnic armed resistant group in Burma. We learned that you attended the 5th term National Democratic Front (NDF) Congress. What issues were mainly discussed?
Colonel Ral Hnin: Yes, I attended the 5th term Congress Meeting of the NDF. In brief the main goals that were set were:
To achieve democracy in Burma as a whole;
To raise one voice by non-Burman ethnic nationalities or stand under one umbrella in line with our political aims, objectives and strategies of our national movements, and; To set a tripartite dialogue as our strategic goal in order to fulfill the three primary aims of the NDF – liberty, equality and social progress.
Chinland Guardian: Would you also tell us about the (5) Party military alliance?
Colonel Ral Hnin: As far as my knowledge on the (5) party military alliance is concerned, it was firstly formed with Karen National Union KNU, Karenni National Progressive Party KNPP, Shan State Army SSA and Arakan Liberation Party ALP on 13th March 1999, and on the 1st June that same year, the CNF was invited to join. At the invitation of this alliance, the CNF became associated and our membership was accepted
In the meeting held at KNU control area on 13th June. The alliance has responsibilities to implement it. It is worth noting that at the recent meeting held on 5th December 2002, the name was changed from (5) Party to Military Alliance to Military Alliance. And now we are called the Military Alliance. In this alliance, only a single armed group from each nationality or state can be accepted as a member.
Chinland Guardian: How did you form the Chin National Army CNA?
Colonel Ral Hnin: In order to achieve a genuine democracy in Burma as a whole and in order to attain self-determination for the Chin peoples in the Union of Burma, the CNF believes that by following solely non-violent means, this would not be possible. We needed to apply different methods and strategies. In accordance with the firm believe by the CNF and on what we have adopted in applying different methods in our struggle, we accepted an armed struggle in defense of ourselves on our way to achieving our set goals. Therefore, the CNA was formed as the Armed Wing of the CNF, and operated under its umbrella. The CNA was formed with a tactical base.
Chinland Guardian: Did the CNA impart the internationally accepted Court of Conduct as set out by Geneva Convention in your basic military training?
Colonel Ral Hnin: The CNF recognized the military Court of Conduct in 1997. As for the CNA, we could not teach this in our military training period as well as we would have liked. We had only a short period of training, and too many subjects to be taught in this brief time. So we considered imparting to them [the Court of Conduct] in the wake of
training. We taught them a weeklong course in the first week following our training.
Chinland Guardian: There are several tribes among the Chins. Is there all tribes of Chins enlist in the Chin National Army?
Colonel Ral Hnin: Yes, off course. You can find all tribe and locality of Chins within the Chin National Army.
Chinland Guardian: The Chins Battalions were quite popular during colonial and postcolonial period for their loyalty and bravery. What is your opinion looking at your soldiers in the Chin National Army.
Colonel Ral Hnin: Having hornbill as our national symbol, we, the Chins in general, are known as one of the most truthful and loyal people in the world since the time of our forefathers. In my opinion, present generation of the Chins, are brave, truthful and loyal too. Thus, I would say that members of Chin National Army are not different from other Chins.
Chianland Guardian: Colonel, thank you very much for your time.