CNF Reaffirms Belief in Federal Democracy, Reshuffles Leadership
15 December 2008 – Aizawl: The Chin National Front (CNF), an ethnic armed opposition group, Saturday rejected the 2010 planned election in Burma, saying the organization is fundamentally opposed to the military’s “seven-step roadmap” transition process or any of its resulting outcomes, including the scheduled election.
A statement issued after its fourth General Conference, held from 8 to 13 December 2008, also reaffirms belief in a “Tripartite dialogue” as the only viable and credible political process for solving Burma’s deep-seated political crisis. Such a dialogue would involve the winning parties of the 1990 elections, representatives of the ethnic nationalities and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
While rejecting the planned 2010 vote, the CNF acknowledges the possibility that the Chin people may inevitably take part in those elections.
“If the Chin people do decide to participate, either through forming new political parties or through independent candidacy, they should only do so with the view of fulfilling the true desire of the Chin public,” it says.
The organization says the Chin people continue to face widespread hunger due to the bamboo flowering and related rat infestation, and urges Chin communities and churches abroad, and international aid organizations to intensify humanitarian aid efforts to help the Chin people.
In recent months an increasing number of Chin people have fled across the international borders to escape widespread hunger and food shortages in Chin State. The CNF says it is concerned by the recent trends in increased out-migration caused by continued massive human rights abuses against the Chin civilian population by the Burma Army, and propelled by the latest food crisis due to rat infestation.
“Unfortunately, the forced migration is threatening the security and viability of the Chin as a people. This is a national crisis that must be responded to urgently and collectively by all sectors of the Chin society,” the CNF says.
The fourth General Conference, held from 8 to 13 December at a location on the India-Burma border, elected new Central Committee members to lead the organization for the next five years. Attended by 74 delegates, special invitees and observers, the Conference elected Mr. Zing Cung as new Chairman, and Paul Sitha as the new General Secretary of the organization. Zing Cung, the former Vice Chairman and General Secretary of the multi-ethnic alliance National Democratic Front, replaced Mr. Thang Nou, who headed the organization for 14 years from 1994 to 2008.
The former Chairman Thomas Thang Nou is a Law graduate, while Zing Cung earned his degree in History from Rangoon University. Both of them rose to the leadership role when they received military training from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the Kachin State of northern Burma. “Not just the rank and file of the Chin National Army, these men were respected and recognized by everybody in the movement in those days,” says an ex-guerilla member who served as a soldier under their command.
Thomas Thang Nou now serves as Vice Chairman (1), while the former General Secretary Thang Yen serves as Vice Chairman (2).
But despite the leadership reshuffles, the CNF says it stays committed to its original political goals.
“The organization remains committed to the realization of basic human rights, the goal of self-determination, and the emergence of a genuine federal system that is based on the recognition of equal rights for all ethnic nationalities,” the conference statement reads.
Founded in 1988 following a nation-wide uprising that was brutally crushed by the incoming military junta, the Chin National Front is now one of the few remaining ethnic armed opposition groups still fighting Burma’s military regime. Like other ethnic opposition movements, the organization has suffered many setbacks in recent years due to increased bi-lateral security ties between India and Burma. In the summer of 2005, following demands by Burma’s military junta, the Indian government sent its security forces to destroy the Headquarters of the Chin National Front and its armed wing Chin National Army (CNA). The CNF responded by abandoning its stronghold to avoid confrontation with the Indian security forces.
A Uniting Force
Despite suffering some setbacks and internal problems during the last 20 years of its existence, as do other ethnic opposition groups, the Chin National Front, under the leadership of its former Chairman Thomas Thang Nou, recreated itself as a uniting force within the Chin opposition movement by reaching out to other Chin political organizations, and civil society groups, as well as individuals. In 1998, the CNF organized the first Chin Seminar in Ottawa, Canada, where respected Chin individuals from many backgrounds, including leaders of major political parties and elected Chin MPs participated. The Seminar resulted in the formation of the Chin Forum (CF), a non-partisan group dedicated to collectively advancing the Chin interests. Charged with various tasks, the single largest accomplishment of the Chin Forum was the drafting of the Chin State Constitution in anticipation of a new Burmese federal constitution envisioned by the democratic opposition movement. The Chin Forum’s State Constitution drafting initiative has inspired other ethnic groups to draft their own State constitution as part of a larger federal movement in Burma.
In 2004, the CNF hosted the Chin Consensus Building Seminar at its former headquarters Camp Victoria where Chin political parties and civil society groups converged for the first time in the history of Chin opposition movement. The Seminar resulted in the signing of Victoria Agreement and the formation of the Political Affairs Committee of Chinland (PACC), a political umbrella consisting of four existing Chin political parties and 13 civil society organizations. Tasked with the emergence of a united Chin political force, the PACC convened the first Chin National Assembly in the summer of 2006, which created the Chin National Council (CNC), a collective body created to represent a united Chin political voice.
While continuing the course of armed struggle, the Chin National Front also started focusing on the diplomatic front and internationally-focused campaigns, as well as alliance-building to advance its goals. In 2001, the Chin National Front was accepted as a Chin representative organization at the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization (UNPO), a shadow United Nations body. The organization has also utilized UN and regional mechanisms as part of an overall strategy to advance its goals.