Concerns over India’s aid for development in Chin State
24 February 2013: Concern has been raised over financial aid provided by Indian government for development in Chin State as it will be channelled through the Ministry for Border Affairs.
Lt. Gen. Thet Naing Win, new Union Minister for Border Affairs, a ministry that has been accused of coercing Chin Christian students to convert to Buddhism, said the money would be spent for construction of eleven primary schools, nine health centres and five bridges in Burma’s poorest state.
Announcement on plans of the projects was made following a meeting last Friday with Dr. Villur Sundararajan Seshadri, Indian Ambassador to Burma.
“It is good that India is willing to help develop Chin State. What is more important is that their assistance does not end up in the hands that make no benefits to the people,” a Chin community leader and Christian pastor told Chinland Guardian.
India will give US$ 25million to the Ministry for Border Affairs for development in education, health and transport sectors in both Chin State and Naga Self-Administered Zone for the next five years, according to the New Light of Myanmar.
The Minister for Border Affairs, together with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has been responsible for running Na Ta La schools, government’s separate residential school system known as Border Areas National Races Youth Development Training School.
“These Indian funds must not be used to construct Na Ta La schools, as our research shows that the right to freedom of religion or belief is not upheld at those Ministry for Border Affairs schools, run by the military,” said Ms. Rachel Fleming, Advocacy Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
“Actually, funds are needed to construct basic education primary and high schools in the poorest, most remote parts of Chin State. With better access to mainstream education, poor Chin families will be less vulnerable to having their children recruited to the Na Ta La schools,” added Ms. Fleming.
The Indian government is urged to ensure that the funds are not channeled into the Na Ta La school system and to ensure transparency in how these funds are spent.
In a recent reshuffle in government ministries at the order of President Thein Sein, the Union Minister for Border Affairs Lt. Gen. Thein Htay has been replaced by Lt. Gen. Thet Naing Win.
In October last year, Lt. Gen. Thein Htay announced plans to establish a new Na Ta La school in Paletwa Township of Chin State in the years 2013 and 2014.
A report by CHRO said the Ministry for Border Affairs targeted poverty-stricken Chin youths for recruitment into the Na Ta La schools and coerced Christian students to convert to Buddhism.
The Chin Human Rights Organization first documented coerced conversion of children at the Na Ta La schools in 1994.
Van Biak Thang