Myanmar’s military regime has been waging war in Chin State in the mountainous far west of the country for months. Intense fighting between the junta and civilian resistance groups has forced thousands of people to flee their homes, creating a humanitarian catastrophe. In the past 10 days alone, junta troops bombarded the town of Thantlang, prompting an exodus of nearly 8,000 people. Regime soldiers also shot down a Christian pastor in the town and mutilated his corpse.
The Irrawaddy spoke to Dr. Sasa, the Minister of International Cooperation for the parallel National Unity Government (NUG), himself an ethnic Chin, about the current situation in Chin State and the NUG’s efforts at home and abroad to deliver aid and win international support.
What can you tell us about the current situation in Chin State?
The military regime’s State Administration Council (SAC) has targeted Chin State since shortly after the coup, and there have been especially heavy crackdowns in Mindat and Kanpetlet. The regime bombs and uses heavy weapons against civilians. The use of such weapons to destroy villages and towns in Chin State is both a war crime and a crime against humanity. They attack the Chin people with the intention of massacring them. What happened in Thantlang earlier this September is further proof of the junta’s brutality. Not only did they kill the Chin Christian pastor Cung Biak Hum, but they also cut off his wedding ring. We feel that is not only an insult to the Chin people, but it is also a declaration of war against all the Christian community. They do it on purpose. Now, everyone in Thantlang has fled their homes. They deliberately burned down 19 houses.
Are the Chin people being repressed more because they are so active in the resistance against the junta?
What we have come to understand is that if this Spring Revolution does not succeed, there will be no future for the ethnic nationalities and for the people of Myanmar as a whole. Ethnic groups have been persecuted for 74 years. For those 74 years, we have had no hope from the generals and they have had nothing to offer. We Chin people have been discriminated against for generations on the basis of race and religion. Now all Chin people understand that the whole system needs to be changed. All ethnic groups understand that, too. We have a choice. We will end the rule of the military. Then, we will establish a federal democracy. [Under the federal democracy system] our constitution guarantees our right to self-determination. We will never back down until we have taken that path. If not, then military dictatorships will happen again and again.
What kind of support can the NUG provide to the Chin people, especially those who have fled from Thantlang?
There are a lot of areas where we can’t say what the NUG is doing to support people for security reasons. But I want to say that almost US$1 million is being provided indirectly for humanitarian support in Chin State.
In the Indian state of Mizoram, which borders Chin State and shares a similar culture to ours, we are in talks with the local government to help our people. There is a lot we are doing in collaboration with all the religious organizations in Mizoram, as well as with the international community, on health, education, and humanitarian assistance. Of course, not all the needs are being met. The NUG continues to work behind the scenes with humanitarian groups.
In Chin State, people are resisting the junta with traditional rifles and are suffering human rights abuses. What is the NUG’s message to them?
The Myanmar military have been using the four cuts policy for many years. It is a tactic to cut off food, funding, intelligence and recruits. Under that policy, humanitarian aid is much harder to deliver. For example, it takes a lot of permits just to transport a bag of rice.
We have a lot of resources. As a person communicating with the international community, I can say that there are many organizations that want to help. There are many philanthropists. But the four cuts policy is hurting our efforts to provide assistance to almost all villages in Chin State. The problem is that the military council aims guns at people to prevent them from getting help. We understand the frustration of the people and their suffering and how that might cause them to blame the NUG. But the people are suffering because of the generals’ four cuts policy. It is the SAC that is depriving us of the humanitarian assistance we deserve. We are facing a real hell.
The United States [US] alone has provided more than US$130 million for Myanmar IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees. Along with the contributions from the United Kingdom and the European Union [EU], the total support amounts to about US$300 million after the coup. If the four cuts policy could be taken away, no one would go hungry and no one would be homeless. The longer the regime stays in power, the worse the situation will get. Therefore, we are working hard to end this dictatorship as soon as possible.
The NUG said earlier this month that the armed resistance movement is growing because of the failure of the international community to intervene. What do you think the international community should do?
Eight months after the coup, we are still urging the international community to recognize the NUG immediately. The NUG takes its legitimacy from the people. The NUG leadership is based on the results of the 2020 general election, which was won by the National League for Democracy. Our legitimacy comes from the people who support us. The 76th United Nations [UN] General Assembly Resolution recognizes the 2020 elections as free and fair. The independent electoral observer group in Asia also said it was free and fair. So the question is why does the international community not recognize the people’s government? The NUG needs to be recognized internationally as soon as possible. Only by recognizing us, can the basic needs of the people be met.
We are using our own four cuts strategy to counter the military. Number one in the strategy is to cut the financial flow and income to the SAC. Number two, supplies of fuel and weapons must be cut. Number three is to cut all the SAC’s attempts at diplomacy. The international community must not cooperate politically with the military regime. For example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must cut ties with it. And all international organizations must cut ties with the SAC. Number four is to cut the legitimacy of the military council. They must not be allowed to administer the country.
How successful has the NUG’s four cuts approach been?
Think about it. Even now the junta-controlled lottery is not working. When our spring lottery was introduced [in August], their lottery faded and [seems to be] dead. Then there is the tax issue. The people do not want to pay taxes anymore. It is a way of non-violent [resistance against military rule]. We now have electricity tax exemptions. It’s really a success. If you pay the electricity fee, the money will go to [coup leader Senior General] Min Aung Hlaing. He will use that money to buy weapons.
The Civil Disobedience Movement [CDM] is another example of our four cuts strategy. The CDM brings an end to the regime’s attempt at administration. The whole world knows they can’t administer the country. This is the success of the people.
We are monitoring the military and their crony companies together with our international partners. The US, UK, EU and Canada have imposed sanctions on all the military leaders and their companies, individual cronies and military-owned MEC and MEHL. We are urging Australia and New Zealand to back us. So the success we have had in the last seven or eight months has been huge. The UN resolution also calls for an end to arms sales to the military regime.
Our goal is to weaken the SAC financially so they are unable to get access to more weapons. Currently, they are not able to govern. In the meantime, we are advocating hard to the international community not to support the junta. So I want to ask the people if there is any country that accepts the SAC? There is none. The military regime is really falling apart.
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