Change in Burma: A Chinland Perspective

Now We Can Help Chin State Ourselves’: CNF Supreme Council Vice Chairman III Thang Nang Lian Thang. (Photo: Project Maje)

The Chin National Front (CNF), an ethnic armed group from western Burma, reached a ceasefire agreement with the country’s government in January 2012. Edith Mirante fromProject Maje, which documents human rights and environmental issues in Burma, recently interviewed CNF Supreme Council Vice Chairman III Thang Nang Lian Thang for The Irrawaddy.
Thang Nang Lian Thang, 58, born in Tiddim, Chin State, was a founding member of the Chin National League for Democracy and Zomi National Congress. His views are personal and not the official positions of the CNF.

Question: What has happened in the CNF peace process with the government?

Answer: We have a ceasefire agreement. We are talking only about the ceasefire; we are not handing over and surrendering our arms. Another step is for establishing political dialogue at Union level. All the ethnic armed groups have said that we will talk outside of the Parliament, because we do not accept the 2008 Constitution.

Q: What sort of a federal government system would Chinland like to see?

A: Our federalism, our future plan for the country, we have based on the [1947] Panglong Agreement. We base it on self-determination and equal rights for all ethnic nationalities. In Burma we cannot make it only regional federalism. We have to be also for the nationalities basis of federalism.

Q: With the difficult Kachin [conflict] situation now, is there Chin support for the Kachins?

A: While we Chins have a ceasefire agreement and are preparing for political dialogue, the government broke its promise with the Kachins [rebels] and they fight again—so we have a lesson. We cannot fully trust the government until we see that their words match their actions. At the same time, all ethnics and the government must continue the peace process together for the betterment of the people and for the future of the Union of Burma. The UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council] announced that we will not step up our peace process without the government stopping its fight against the Kachins. So it means we are also concerned and stand with the Kachins. Our CNF also has a separate announcement that we condemn this government fighting against the Kachins.

Q: In Chinland some indigenous people identify as Chin or Zo, or something else. How can these different groups work together?

A: I think it is not a difficult condition. In the past, there were many Chin clans. We lived peacefully with each other in our region. In the colonial period the British allowed our Zomi area to be ruled by the Zomi and Tiddim chief, and the Falam chief ruled his small country—one small town was one country at that time. The Panglong Agreement was signed by the three regional chiefs of the Chins: Pu Hlur Hmung, Falam; Pu Thawng Za Khup, Tiddim, and Pu Kio Mang, Haka. From 1962 to 1988, we had our own underground movement and all the students were working together. Later, five Chin parties emerged. Unity is not uniformity—unity is diversity. We cannot say that all the Chin people should be one party. Everybody can have a separate party but still work together. Every party will compete and elect. Our goal is to bring down the military government and the “Greater Burma” ideology of this government. If we are fighting among ourselves about something, it’s meaningless.

Q: What is needed for Chin State as things change in Burma?

A: We got independence from 1948, and from then until now there is no infrastructure. There’s no good road communication, no factories, no institutions, no universities. Our cultivation systems, we are still in primitive life—we use the three-inch iron hook to cultivate. The central government always said, “Our country’s very poor, how can we support this area?” But now we have an agreement with the government, they allow us to find NGOs and find financial sources and we can help Chin State ourselves. Now we are starting to find donors to work with.

Q: Should Chin people who fled Burma try to go back to their homeland? Or is it still too early?

A: This depends on the situation. All the exiled political leaders always ask the government to announce an amnesty, but they don’t want to make the amnesty statement. All the punishment laws for being anti-government are still there. So what is our security? If we make a final peace process with the government, we have a plan so all who come back to the motherland will have a resettlement program for homes, for jobs. But it is not the time yet.

13 Responses to Change in Burma: A Chinland Perspective

  1. Cheers, our leader with a principle. CNF never surrender, only find the way to solve the political problem.

  2. Further clarification please. What is nationalities basis of federalism , and is it different from genuine and or discipline federalism .

  3. Dear Lian,

    You in principle touched on the vital point when you clearly contended that all ethnic armed groups shall necessarily have a political dialogue with the regime outside the parliament and the 2008 constitution basically because both the 2008 Nargis constitution and the sham 2010 election, which was neither free nor fair, failed to represent the people and the country together. Unless and until the 2008 constitution is changed or rewritten, the possibility of genuine reform in the country is slim, if not impossible, and all groups, parties, and individuals of the Burmese should work together with love for the country to change the constitution.

    You rightly said that the Chins support the Kachins, who continue to face the greater oppression, persecution, and ethnocide in the homeland of their ancestors perpetrated by Burma army with impunity, and our Kachin brothers and sisters are being treated as aliens in their homeland. Chin churches around the world stretched their brotherly hands in 2011 to reach and help their Kachin brothers and sisters, and the Chins outside Burma now raise again funds for their Kachin brothers and sisters, who are still brutalized, dehumanized, and raped by Burma army. We, the Chins, are firmly on the side of the KIA as the entire Kachins do, and whenever Burma army attacks any ethnic group, the Chins assume that it is against them, too.

    You made a careful but pragmatic response when you answered that the government has broken its own promise with the Kachin-which is a good lesson not only for CNF but also for the whole UNFC-, and you, of course, never forget that Burma regime and army give promise today and break it tomorrow. You essentially do not fully trust in the regime, which does not deserve the blind trust of the UNFC, and when you continue the peace process, caution would be extremely important.

    We, the entire Chins inside and outside Burma, are firmly behind you, the CNF, and we shall never give up our revolution until we enter the promised land of federal democratic system, self-determination, and equality in the homeland of our ancestors. May God bless you richly for our people and our land!

  4. Why couldn’t the current regime bring all nationalities for political dialogue since in power? Why did Thein Sein and associates draft the constitution this poor? It is no way near to be acceptable democratic Union of Burma. Knowingly, he drafted the nargis constitution which is no good for democratic Union of Burma. Precious two years have been wasted without seeing political changes in the Union. The citizens died and sacrificed their lives for democracy, not for economy. Thein Sein is not serious enough for what we the citizens value it the most which is political change. All ethnics and many Burman people will never get satisfied with economic liberalization alone. So, UNFC needs to raise its voice louder since the vipers are on the thrones. Before we all get killed, we need to extract all their poison on time.

  5. Good job Pu Thang Nang Lian! Your statement and vision illustrate a brighter Chinland and fundamental human rights in future Burma. But plz keep an eye on the ongoing war between the KIA and the Burmese army, and keep stay strong behind the Kachin people. Without stopping Kachin war there can’t be peace in Burma.

  6. Sovereignity, Citizenship and The Rights of self Determination are tags that one have to take into consideration in studying the present conflict — ethnic conflicts. . But also without considering questions of , civic and ethno-nationalism in Myanmar – Burma. one risks the peril that not far in the future , as concerned Burmese wemust bear the responsibility, if Myanmar Burma transform itself into another Yugoslavia or Iraq ,nations in the making.. Just food for thought .
    To me the issue of whether and how the security of individuals (humans) relates to the idea of ethnic security (ethnic autonomy-freedom ), and in relation to the national security (political stability and/or democracy- human rights at the level of the state-individual-society) .This issue-topic of course is of critical importance now at the juncture of Burma-Myanmar’s history . The passions and the interests are in a state of play.and particularly of intense importance for all Burmese . The present is as history.

  7. Many people do not understand the difference between autonomy and sovereignty. In the Union system, autonomy and self determination help the land flourished and developed. It is no way near to separation or independence. Greatest countries on earth are the ones which practice this system which Burma and Burmans are terribly afraid of. Unitary system is what many people still sadly call Union. When the majority group is believing and leading the wrong way, we all are in endless troubles. However, we the ethnics are faithfully sticking on the Panglong Agreement. That is good for the Union of Burma.

  8. “The present is as history” what a statement! History does not repeat itself is an often heard statement – I conclude the term was coined by people ignorant of history.

    Myanmar is going through the struggle which has taken place and is taking place all over the globe. The conflicts wherever they take place are about sharing and distributing the “wealth” of resources in the broadest sense of definition, i.e. inclduing human resources. Ethnicity plays a secondary role to that notion for within an ethnic group the “conflict of sharing and distribution of resources” is as vital as it is between different ethnicities, tribes, nations or any assembly of humans in whatever form. – The framework to organize the sharing and the distribution and the processes to reach agreements that is the organization of a state regardless of being a Union, a Confederation or Federal State or whatever form the people agree to within a given territory. This basic agreement must be the Constitution or by Contract between the vaious groups drawn up in a process following democratic principles – if not “war is already a chapter of such invalid document” and is but by name a Constitution or Contract of society.

    What “No Trust” states although not wrong but he must take the reality into account that the distribution of wealth, i.e. resources must be organized by laws and regulations (which are not cast in steel and iron but subject to review by demoncratically establsihed bodies such as a democratically elected parliament) to ensure the survival of the peoples in the territory with the objective of establishing a democratic, mulit-ethnic society.

  9. Myo Nyunt,
    Yugoslavia under Martial Tito, and Iraq under Sadam Husein never was run by Federalism or there never was rights of minority to have their own autonomy. You ask your self that why are those countries fall under so much of distruction? Is it because these countries have the same freedom and equality between majourity and minority or is it because of tyranny and dictatorship which run the country with iron fist. Sadam Husein and Chemical Ali kill iraquies with chemical weapons in the name of stability. Why should Burma go the same fate as Iraq? Yugoslavia different groups were united under one popular leader Martial Tito. He was a good leader, non the less Yugoslavia was under tyranny. The very question is “What is the defination of TYRANNY?” A country under a good leader who hold the absolute power can not be define as TYRANNY? The very interesting question is why do you think that Burma will lead the same path as Yugoslavia or Iraq? My own opinion is that if we adopt federalism in Burma, Burma will more unite than Burma is under Military dictatorship and under bogus democracy constitution. If you ask any ethnic group in Burma, why do they fight central government in Burma? The answer is always the same “For their self preservation and equality”. If the government give them back their rights and equality, there will be no reason left for them to fight. Ethnic people are the one who understand the destruction of war better than a man like you. Ethnic people are sick of negative effects of war, but the central government give them very little choice to have peace. You can not tell anyone how they should live, what language they should speak, and definately you can not push them out of their home and steal their land. The war continue, because the government give the reasons to continue the war. Ethnic people are more educated than you giving credit them for. Wake up see the reality of Burma. People are asking for a reason to unite, which is different from obedient to absolute power. Nature of people is that if you force them, they will resist. But, if you give them reasonable respect, equality, liberty, they will protect those values with their life, whether they are Burman or Ethnic minorities. Think deep and see the reality.

    • Well said, Tom Tun and I agree with you. My only wish is since all ethnic nationalities, goals and demands are the same, we should all walk together in the same direction for greater force against the intruder instead of individually walking to different direction.

  10. “We got independence from 1948, and from then until now there is no infrastructure. There’s no good road communication, no factories, no institutions, no universities. Our cultivation systems, we are still in primitive life—we use the three-inch iron hook to cultivate.”

    This is exactly the sentiment of the Kachin, too. Burmen like to use the excuse that they attack the Kachin and other minorities for the sake of keeping the union intact. What do the ethnics get out of this undesirable union? It’s been 65 years since the declaration of independence, for the Burmen of course, But, for the ethnics, it is merely switching from one (bad) colonizers to the (worse) next. There have been routinely non-stop resource robberies, rapes, and murders. What is the incentives for the ethnics to bear such burdens? A chance to lose sons, husbands and fathers to genocides? The misery to see their houses burnt down? The tragedy to live on with rape traumas? If the current foundation of the union is not changed, why bother to remain, then?

  11. Dear sayargyee Tom Tun and apaung phaw myar, thanks for the positive responses and educating a ignorant burmese like me what federalism is and the peaceful and noble virtues of the demands of political rights of the non-burmese.

  12. All ethnic people witness that they are discriminated and given with empty hope for federalism. But, Kachin stands up and fights back with bravery and dignity. We all must unite and voice one for our new generation.

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