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  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.