Govt. to Open New Na Ta La School in Paletwa
30 October 2012: Minister for Border Affairs Lt. Gen Thein Htay said a new ‘Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training School’ will be opened in Paletwa Township of Chin State next year.
The Union Minister announced plans of establishing the school, also known locally as Na Ta La, in 2013-14 during his trip to Paletwa town of Chin State last Sunday.
Meeting with the local people at Kimo Hall around 10:30am on 28 October, Lt. Gen Thein Htay said the school would be run as a ‘free secondary level learning centre for national race youths’.
“Those [students] who have finished secondary level education are trained to get degrees or diplomas at University for Development of National Races and Nationalities Youth Resource Development Degree Colleges under the Border Affairs Ministry,” said the Union Minister, according to the New Light of Myanmar today.
He also mentioned the Na Ta La school students would be ‘assigned to their home regions’ upon completion of the course.
Last month, a new report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) accused the Ministry for Border Affairs of targeting poverty-stricken Chin youths for recruitment into the schools and coercing Christian students to convert to Buddhism.
Chin students, who fled the Na Ta La schools, told CHRO that they were prevented from practising Christianity and faced forced coercion to convert to Buddhism at schools via the threat of military conscription.
A 13-year-old Chin student, who attended the Na Ta La school in Matupi and fled later, said: “During the day time while were attending school, we had to wear school uniform. After school, we had to wear monks’ robes. We had our heads shaved. Sometimes we Chin Christians didn’t want to bow down to the monks. They beat us with rattan sticks…”
Another Chin student, who was recruited at the age of 18 to the school by soldiers from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion No. 274, said: “At the school, we were taught Buddhism by monks. Most of the monks treated us badly; for those who didn’t want to study Buddhism the punishment was severe.”
However, the government claimed that students have the right to follow their chosen religion at the schools and that the schools facilitate cultural exchange between the diverse ethnic groups.
There are 29 Na Ta La schools across Burma, with one-third of trainees being ethnic Chin and more than one-third of schools located in Chin State and Sagaing region, where a sizeable population of the Chin live, according to the report.
CHRO’s research reveals that the Ministries for Border Affairs and Religious Affairs work in close cooperation in the implementation of the schools programme, run as a separate residential education system.
First opened in around 1994 under the guise of a 30-year master plan for development in ethnic areas, the school programme is headed by military-dominated Ministry, with its Central Committee chaired by President Thein Sein.
CHRO’s report said the Na Ta La schools arguably function as a cornerstone of the unwritten policy of forced assimilation as it called for the abolition of the Education and Training Department being responsible for the schools.
Speaking to Chinland Guardian, Salai Ceu Bik Thawng, General Secretary of the Chin National Party (CNP), said: “We have been closely monitoring the work of Ministries of Religious Affairs and Border Affairs especially in Chin State, and believe that we don’t need a school that externally operates as a development programme but internally propagates Buddhism.”
“This is of no benefits to the people as a whole and the budget spent for running the programme has been a waste. It is really unfair that government budget is used to promote Buddhism through this school system while discrimination against religious and ethnic moniroties is still widespread,” added Salai Thawng.
Lt. Gen Thein Htay, accompanied by Lt. Gen Hla Min of the Commander-in-Chief (Army) Office and Rakhine State Chief Minister U Hla Maung Tin, arrived by helicopter at the military base of Burma Army Battalion No. 289 in Paletwa after making a visit to Rakhine State.
During the Sunday meeting in Paletwa, the Union Minister avoided answering questions raised by the Chin locals regarding problems with electricity, water and poverty, according to the Khumi Media Group.
Reporting by Peter Lu with Thawng Zel Thang