The Chin National Front (CNF), an armed group from western Burma, held its first ever talks with the country’s government in January of this year. Project Maje, which documents human rights and environmental issues in Burma, recently interviewed CNF Assistant General Secretary 1 Paul Sitha ahead of followup meetings scheduled for late April.
Question: In the January ceasefire agreement, where is the territory or special area for CNF?
Answer: We call it a “peace agreement,” not a “ceasefire”―that can be broken easily. The CNF territory is in Thantlang Township, Tlapi Dawa Village Tract. And in Tiddim Township there is Bukphir Village Tract. And in Paletwa Township, Para, Pathianthlang and Konpyin. And we are to get liaison offices in Thantlang, Tiddim, Matupi.
Q: Who decided on those places?
A: Before our representatives went to Hakka [the Chin State capital] for the talks, we had a meeting and we decided on those. Because they are our strategic places.
Q: How connected are these areas? A: They are quite far apart. If we go on foot, it is very far. It’s not connected. These are the liberated areas. Q: Are there other conditions for the agreement?
A: They said we [the CNF] can travel, without uniform, throughout Burma. Before we went to Hakka for the January meetings, we talked with the Ethnic Nationalities Council about if we really need peace or not. Say we need peace―there should be a give-and-take policy. Now, we are not a winner. The Burma government are also not the winner. From this we will not go directly to Naypyidaw for more talks. We will [hold a] council with our people, six months to one year, and then after the desire of the people is known, we are going to go there.
Q: Did the idea of meeting with all the ethnic nationalities come up during the CNF negotiations?
A: No. Our current Union issues and Chin issues are not the same. Our Chin issues should be discussed at the state level. After that, Union issues should be discussed at the UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council] level in Naypyidaw.
Q: How are relations between the CNF and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) these days?
A: We got the basic military training from the KIO, and we have some agreements. We are from one descendent. They are quite good to us.
Q: What is the CNF’s source of income? A: From 1991 to 2008, we used to ask for a donation―a “home tax,” we called it. In 2008 we stopped collecting home tax [because of the Mautam hunger crisis]. Now it comes from donations from refugees in third countries.
Q: What would be required for people from Chinland to be able to go back to their homeland?
A: They are also thinking, wait and see the situation first, if it’s safe or not. It’s not about the economy. If it’s a democratic country, if Thein Sein restores human rights and democracy, maybe people will start being interested in returning then. The refugees, I’ve told them, it’s not your country where you are living―Malaysia, US, Canada. You have one responsibility, which is Chinland.
Q: The CNF has always promoted ethnic unity among the people called the Chins, but your people have always had inter-ethnic differences. How do you work on overcoming that?
A: We don’t accept using local terms only. Because we do not have a common language. So CNF policy is that “Chin” can be like a house for all Chins. If we still use individual names we will not be united. If you put “Chin” at the top, it is the umbrella of all Chins. If we cannot use a common name, we will be always be like this. Our population is very small, so it is important [that we agree on this].
Q: What are the current goals of the CNF in these changing times?
A: It was and is to strive for internal self-determination. Not external. The fortunes of Chins should be decided by Chins.