London, UK: Ethnic Nationalities from Burma last week held a two-day historical event called ‘Union of Burma Ethnic Affairs Seminar (Europe)’ in Frankfurt, Germany from 21-22 June, 2008. The event was hosted by an organising committee formed by Germany-based ethnic groups and funded by the Euro-Burma Office (EBO).
Salai Kipp Kho Lian, one of the moderators of the Organising Committee told Chinland Guardian when asked for the main purpose of the seminar: “As a significant number of ethnic nationalities from Burma has come to settle in European countries and we have heard from the youth voices for having a kind of Europe-wide ethnic organisation, we think that it is now time to form an umbrella roof or even if it is still immature to do so then we need to find out what we can do together.”
“It is also important that we show our existence in Europe. We can preserve and promote ethnic cause via our culture, sports, arts, dresses and so on,” added Salai Kipp Kho Lian, a Chin veteran political activist.
The seminar was attended by 54 participants from European countries including Germany, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and United Kingdom. The organisations, NGOs and individual present were Chin Community (Germany), Zomi Innkuan Germany, Karen National Community (Germany), Karen Community Association (UK), Minority Burma Muslim Association, Point of Peace (Norway), Chin Forum (Canada), Ethnic Nationalities Council, Euro-Burma Office, Saw Paul Sein Twa of Chiang Mai-based Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, a famous Arakanese writer U Khin Maung Kyi (UK) and other attendees belonging to ethnic groups from Burma including Arakanese, Chin and Karen.
“It is a very important event and everyone is enthusiastic about it. I believe this seminar serves as a good foundation for ethnic movements in Europe in the future,” said Victor Biak Lian of Chin Forum and Chin Human Rights Organisation.
The seminar concluded with the formation of the Union of Burma Ethnic Affairs (ad-hoc) Committee (Europe) made up of delegations from all over Europe. The ad-hoc Committee is expected to be able to form a full-pledged Committee in the near future encompassing other ethnic groups of Burma residing in Europe.
“People might think this is the first time. Actually, there was once an active movement in 1994 called Europe-wide Travelling Seminar initiated by European Burmese Association (Hamburg) to promote ethnic cause in Europe. It was the result of the UN Indigenous People Year. Therefore, we can say this is the second time although it is a bit different in its scope of participation from the previous one,” recalled Salai Kipp.
The next ethnic affairs seminar will be held in Brussels, Belgium in 2009.
For decades, ethnic nationalities in Burma have been suffering from the brutal atrocities, and facing “ethnic cleansing and Burmanization” and various forms of oppression including religious persecution, harsh forced labour and ruthless exploitation of people and resources imposed on by the longstanding military regime. As a result of these systematic repressive measures, many ethnic people flee their native places to settle in other countries.
In Burma, there are, according to Ethnic Nationalities Solidarity and Co-operation Committee (ENSCC), 135 races or tribes where 65 of which are all from the Chin State. The non-Burman ethnic peoples that occupy 55% of the country are supposed to make up about 40% of Burma’s population.
Van Biak Thang
25 June, 2008