Zing Cung, General-Secretary of the National Democratic Front (NDF) and Vice-Chairman of the Chin National Front (CNF)
By Benedict Rogers, May 14, 2003, Bangkok
Zing Cung is the grandson of Rev. Sang Fen, the first Chin convert to Christianity. Rev. Sang Fen was the first President of the Zomi (Chin) Baptist Convention. He graduated in 1983 from Rangoon University and after 1988 joined the movement for democracy in Burma. In January 1989 he joined the Chin National Front (CNF), which had been established in 1988 in order to fight for democracy, a democratic federal union of Burma, and the right to self-determination for the ethnic nationalities. That struggle, however, had been going on since the Panglong Agreement in 1947, in which the Constitution, which had been agreed required the formation of a federal union which granted equal status to the ethnic nationalities. That was never fulfilled, and efforts to resolve the issue peacefully failed. When Ne Win seized power in a coup in 1962, he opposed federalism, claiming it would break-up the union. “We were betrayed by the Burmans,” Zing Cung said.
In 1994, the Burmese regime offered to talk with the Chin. However the regime set a pre-condition which was unacceptable to the Chin: they said they would talk about economic and rural area development issues only, and not include political issues in the talks. Between 1994-2001 the regime approached the Chin four times, but never with any willingness to negotiate the political issues.
“We believe in a multi-ethnic country in which every nationality has equal opportunities and rights. That is the only way there will be peace,” Zing Cung said. The Chin are engaged in armed struggle, he explained, because they regard the Burma Army as a “foreign invading force” and “in order to survive we have to keep arms to protect ourselves”. But the Burma Army has responded excessively. Although the scale of human rights violations in Chin state may not be as large as in Karen, Karenni or Shan states, the same kind of human rights abuses take place on a “daily basis”: forced relocation, forced labour, religious persecution, rape, extrajudicial killings. There are 50,000 Chin refugees in India and more in other countries.
A significant issue is the SPDC’s policy of “Burmanisation”. Zing Cung said: “When I was young I learned the Chin language up to 4th Grade. But now there is no more chance for Chin children to learn their own language. In the school curriculum, the Chin language is never mentioned. Even religious literature is strictly censored. There is no chance to publish a Chin Bible in Burma – it has to be published in India and smuggled in. Even a Burmese Bible cannot be freely circulated. People with [large quantities of] Bibles are arrested.” The Chin are estimated to be 90% Christian. “Religious persecution happens on a daily basis.” Religious gatherings are often prohibited, and pastors and priests who are preaching in church often have to submit their sermons to the Burmese authorities for approval beforehand. In every major town or village, in the late 1980s and 1990s, the Chin people placed a cross as a symbol of their faith, but most of these have been destroyed by the SPDC and replaced with a Buddha statue.
Zing Cung regards this “Burmanisation” as “cultural genocide”. The SPDC, he believes, is trying to destroy Chin culture and tradition. “It is a systematic campaign by the Burmese military regime. When people lose their culture and traditions, they lose what they are campaigning for.” The SPDC changed the official name of the country from “Burma” to “Myanmar”. Superficially, “Myanmar” is a more equitable name. “Burma” is the old colonial name, and represents the Burman ethnic group. “Myanmar” includes all ethnic nationalities living in the union. But the spirit and political reality of a federal union of ethnic nationalities is not present. The Burmese language is enforced and Burmese culture is propagated through literature and media. Furthermore and most importantly, the regime which changed the name of the country is an illegitimate regime which does not represent the will of the people, and therefore it “does not have the right” to change the name.
The SPDC oppresses both Burman and non-Burman people, but the violations of human rights are more severe for the ethnic minorities. For the Burmans, there is no freedom of expression and association, but for the ethnic minorities their culture, language and national identity are being destroyed. “We are suffering all together, but we [the ethnic minorities] are suffering more,” Zing Cung said. For example, in Chin state fertile land has been taken away from Chin people, and Burmans from central Burma have been brought in, forcing the Chin people away.
Chin life expectancy is between 50 and 55. Poverty and hardship, forced labour and treatable diseases contribute to this low life expectancy. Furthermore, the SPDC harasses Chin people farming their land, and during harvest time sometimes forces Chin people to work for the army – thus destroying a whole year’s crops. The people, Zing Cung said, are suffering “physically and mentally”. “They are living in constant fear: fear of when the Burmese are going to knock on the door, take people to be porters, check who is visiting.”
The National Democratic Front (NDF) was formed on May 10th 1975 by ethnic minorities who share the same goals. There have been previous alliances since 1949, with different names. The NDF aims to build federalism with equal rights for the ethnic nationalities, and campaigns for the right to self-determination for every ethnic group. Their slogan is “With a united force we will achieve our victory.” There are currently eight members of the NDF, which includes the KNU, the Karenni National Progressive Party, and the CNF.
Since 1989 the SLORC/SPDC have signed ceasefires with some ethnic groups, notably the Kachin, the Wa and the Mon. The terms of the ceasefire were attractive: the ethnic resistance groups were permitted to keep their arms, and work together for the economic and rural development of their land. These ceasefires had some impact on the effectiveness of the NDF, and some ceasefire groups withdrew from NDF. Only the New Mon State Party, which signed a ceasefire, remained in the NDF.
Zing Cung said that it is essential now to make the international community aware of the situation in Burma, and to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on the SPDC. “Very little is known in the world about the suffering of the ethnic people in Burma, the human rights violations, the refugees, the cultural genocide,” he said. The armed resistance groups are often dismissed by the international community because they are armed, he noted, but, he explained, “if we don’t hold arms we will not be able to organise or protect our people”. The strategy, therefore, has to involve three approaches: armed struggle, economic pressure and diplomatic pressure. The goal is tripartite dialogue between the SPDC, the NLD and the ethnic groups. “The NDF is always ready to have dialogue with the regime,” he said.
“Now is a critical point,” said Zing Cung. More serious action must be taken. “The United Nations has passed resolutions every year since 1994, calling for tripartite dialogue and condemning human rights abuses, but it has taken no significant steps. The UN and the international community must take stronger measures.” One problem is the differences in approach between the European Union (EU) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). The EU has taken a strong stand with sanctions, but ASEAN, especially China and India, have practised “constructive engagement”. There needs to be consistency. “The international community needs one voice, a voice for diplomatic pressure and sanctions.”
Bangkok, May 14th 2003
Benedict Rogers is a freelance journalist and an international consultant to CSW. He was previously a member of the board of management of CSW UK and founder of CSW Hong Kong. He has visited the Thai-Burmese border six times, and has written about Burma for The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Sunday Times and The Catholic Herald. He is currently writing a book about the Karen, called “Land Without Evil”, to be published by Monarch in 2004.
[Chinland Guardian Note: The above is an excerpt from Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s draft report on Visit to Thai-Burma border]