Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 3: Nun Uk
Male, age: 42.
From: Thantlang, Chin State.
Occupation: former schoolteacher, elected Member of Parliament; shopkeeper.
Education: BS, Mandalay University.
Left Burma: July 2000.
Q: What were your activities in 1988?
A: In 1988, at that time the Burmese people did not look upon us [Chins] like ethnic nationalities. They looked upon us as like animals. So that I was very angry and I organized all of the Thantlang people to demonstrate for one month. I organized the university students and high school students. We addressed the crowds and preached and announced that we don't like this Burmese military regime. [They burned an effigy of Ne Win in a coffin.] We were for democracy. 1988 in September, there were two kinds of address to the people. One kind is "We don't like Ne Win and his government." The other is "Democracy is good for us and we need democracy." But one month later, the army was coming and we dispersed and we gave up these demonstrations.
Q: What were your activities during the election time?
A: September 18, 1988, the military army's coup d'etat. But they announced "we make the election, if the public desires." So that November, I went to Rangoon and advised other Chin people and established CNLD [Chin National League for Democracy]. Later, I came back to my hometown, Thantlang, so I organized Thantlang's people, so we established the Thantlang CNLD. They selected me for the candidate and I won.
Q: Did you have any difficulties with the authorities after the election?
A: After the candidacy, the police and army arrested some of the parliament and politicians. So that 5th of January, 1991, the MI officers and soldiers came and arrested me in my house. After they arrested me, they held me in the police station and put me in the dark place. And they mistreated and scared me so that I worried about everything. In a dark place, they kept me for two months. So that I worried and was afraid. And then they knew that my emotions were down, so they transferred me again to another place. Locked up, but not dark. The total period was six months. They asked me, "Do you help CNA [Chin National Army]?" "Do you participate again in CNLD?" and "Do you fight against our army?" They asked every night these three questions. Six months later, I answered them, "I will never participate in CNLD, I will never support NLD, and I will never be against the army." So, they released me. But, after I was released, every month, the MI investigated me: "what are you doing?" "where are you staying?" "where do you go this month?"
Q: Did you also have problems in later years?
A: In the night-time, 9:00 PM to 4:00 AM, was the army military curfew. And every night they shot the gunfire. Because they try to scare the people. Sometimes the MI and soldiers came to my house and made a surprise check. In the night-time they didn't allow worship service. They didn't allow us to communicate or for more than five people to sit together to pray. In this condition it was very difficult to live in my town. If we want to go, first and foremost we ask army officers for permission. If he does not allow us to go to our field, we cannot go.
In this situation, in 1997, January 3, a bomb exploded near my kitchen. This was 1:00 AM, early morning. Some of my kitchen was broken, but the people were not harmed. Immediately, the army and MI came to my house and they arrested [me and] my son and my neighbor, three persons. The MI and army took us to the police station and they tortured and persecuted us very violently. One of the MI officers hit me in the head with his pistol, here is the scar. And they beat me and kicked me. Some of my teeth were broken. [has row of metal false teeth on same side as scar] On March 13 they released me again. My son, also they tortured him. Because he was one of the university students, they said, "you were participating in demonstrations. So that this explosion, we believe that in reality it is yours." Every time he denied it. So he also was released on 13th of March, with the other person. They always tortured and persecuted us for three months, but we always denied it, because we did not do this bomb. So they released us. After release, we heard about this bomb: the bombers were the [government] army.
The Burmese soldiers, everywhere and every time, they scare and mistreat the people. The army people never do good things for our Chin people. They force us. They never give money for us. One time, the army is forcing people to prepare the road, and one of the stones is rolling upon the man. And he is crying out. Other people try to help him. The soldiers did not allow them to help, because the soldiers said, "if he is dead, no problem for us. Go and do your duty." So his friends are very sorrowful and they are working quickly to prepare the road. All the time he is crying. At last they could help to roll away the stone, and he was not dead.
And then, in 1999, one villager traveled to come to Thantlang, and between Falam and Thantlang, one of the group of army encountered him. They asked his name. But they were looking for someone with a similar name who was serving in CHRO [Chin Human Rights Organization]. The army did not investigate the question, they shot [the villager] on the spot.
In one village, a man did not understand the Burmese language. So that the patrolling army, they asked him his name and they called him. But he didn't understand their Burmese language. So they shot him on the spot. We are troubled in our nation. Most of the Chin people, the ladies and gentlemen, they are worried about their life. So that so many people left their nation and their village and came here to ask asylum. If the army patrolling group arrives in the town or village, everybody who shows, they arrest and collect them in the town hall and force them to carry their food and their arms. Sometimes for one week, sometimes for three days, four days. They shoot and steal pigs, cows. They never give money to the villagers. My sons also so many times were taken as porters. Among these porters, some are ladies. One of the girls from one village was very beautiful. During her time as a carrying porter, they raped her. She was very angry and worried. But the Burmese officer advised her, "respond to me with 'thank you.'" It is very difficult for our sons and daughters.
Q: Would you say that in the year before you left, the army was taking people to work for them more, or less, or the same?
A: They have forced the villager to carry. Even though the villager is very small and it is very heavy for him, he cannot avoid carrying. They keep one porter between one soldier and another soldier. The porters go ahead of them, the soldier, the porter, because they [soldiers] do not dare to go bravely. If they are patrolling in our Chin land, the Burmese army are ten battalions. So every time they go out traveling and patrolling, every time we are carrying. Just before I came here, they used it all the time. Just now, I believe they are using it. Because some villages are in bad transport. They cannot drive to there, and no horses, so that they can use only porters for carrying.
Q: Is Thantlang a forest area and is there any kind of logging?
A: Our Chin land has not much forest. Because our government did not make development for the Chin people. So most of Chin people are shifting farmers, cutting all of the trees and forests. Just now, we cut all of the forests and the trees, so that our land is now bad, the climate is now also very bad. We have not enough food, because every time the army disturbs us.
Q: Were there any foreign companies around Thantlang?
A: The army government does not allow any technician persons to come to our land, or any other foreigners. If we try to contact foreigners, they will torture and persecute us.
Q: Before you left, what was the price of rice and of cooking oil?
A: In our Chin land, the government service officer gets a salary of 1,500 kyat [per month], and the worst rice, one bag is 3,000. The good condition rice is 6,000. Oil, one viss is 600 kyat. But one of the teachers' salary is 1,500.
Q: Around Thantlang, if people grew their own rice, was there a tax on it?
A: It is not like in America. They take and collect, sometimes secretly, the army collects it.
Q: In the Thantlang area in 1999-2000, what was the education situation?
A: Not only in Thantlang, but in our Chin land, it is very poor for our education. In Thantlang district there are only two high schools. And primary schools is around about 80. The teachers' salary is very few, and they are not enough, so that they cannot teach full-time. To pass examination, they collect money. If the student can give some money to the teacher, he is already passed. But in reality, the student is not understanding. The worst thing is, in our Chin land, no human rights and equal rights. Because the Burmese people obstruct to teach our Chin language and Chin literature.
Q: Is school taught in Burmese or Chin?
A: They teach in Burmese language. But if they don't understand in Burmese language, they explain in our Chin language. But legally, they government does not allow to teach in the Chin language.
Q: Do people start their own schools?
A: They never allow private schools. If they know they make private schools, they will arrest this person.
Q: What about religious schools?
A: They wanted to teach in our Chin language. But the government never allows to teach them. Only in Sunday school can they teach concerning about Christianity. There are a few Christian orphanage schools.
Q: Are the young people using narcotics?
A: The government cannot control the school and young people. So the teenagers and other young people have...character mistakes. Most of the Chin people did not use drugs. But they use alcohol. Because the army officers allow to make most of the alcohol, to sell themselves. Their characteristics are very low.
Q: What happened before you came here?
A: In my land the condition is this: some young people do not dare to stay in our land. In our land, remaining people are only old, and the young children. When we left our Chin land, it is very hard for us, because we are missing and longing for our family. It is the best thing for us. Just now we are arrived in Guam. We enjoy it -- but in reality we are not enjoying it, because of our longing for our land.
[Villagers near the India border were told that Nun UK was being looked for to be killed; his cousin and an associate were executed by soldiers; the news of the execution was on the VOA and BBC and in a CHRO publication; he was blamed for spreading the news; friends and family warned him and he fled to Rangoon and then overseas.] I know the condition of the other CNLD [elected] Members of Parliament. One of them, Dr. Za Hlei Thang, he is already arrived to asylum in United States. And one, Kapve Tei Kual, he was in Rangoon but he had a heart attack after the army summoned him again and again. Our CNLD General Secretary, Lian Hmung is already arrived in Sweden. [another remains in Rangoon under house arrest.] So most of the CNLD leaders are going abroad, they do not dare to stay in our Chin land, because they worry about their life.