Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 4: Esther
Female, age: 25.
From: Thantlang township, Chin State.
Occupation: university student.
Education: 1st year, Rangoon University, Hlaing Campus.
Left Burma: July 2000.
Q: Why did you leave Burma?
A: When I lived in my village, my village was burnt by the Burmese military, and I wanted to bring democracy and human rights to Burma. So I helped the organization that's called the CNF, who fight for democracy and self-determination for the Chin people. That's why the Burmese military was going to charge and arrest me, so that's why I left the country.
Q: When was your village burned by them?
A: April 17, 1995. Early morning around 3:00 AM, the Burmese military hit our village with a launcher. My cousin, the poor lady, was killed by the Burmese soldiers; her daughter was only 5 months old. Our village was completely burned and we had nothing to eat. We lived without food for three days and three nights.
Q: Was there fighting in the area at the time?
A: Only near the village there was fighting.
Q: After the village was destroyed, where did the people go?
A: Near the village was a small river, so all the villagers settled there.
Q: At the time, were the government soldiers taking people to work for them at all?
A: They forced the villagers to carry as a porter, which means they carry the things of the military.
Q: Who would they ask to carry things for them?
A: Most of them are men; all the old or young men, they force them to work.
Q: In 1998 to 2000, would the army take people to work for them?
A: Yes, a lot. Most of the time they forced them to work as a porter. Sometimes they force them for construction of the roads. And they collect money from the villagers by force for the military.
Q: Just before you left, was that kind of work still going on?
A: Yes it was.
Q: Was there logging around your village?
A: Near the village, the Burmese military made a camp, and they used a lot of logs from the trees for their camp. To build the military camp, the military forced the villagers, mostly men, to build their camp most of the time. So the villagers didn't have enough time to work for their living. So near the village they have a difficulty for their living.
Q: Did the villagers speak with the government soldiers?
A: Actually they hate them, but they are afraid of the Burmese. So they have to talk with them. If they don't talk very well, the soldiers took their pigs and their cattle without paying any money. They may take the girls from the village and keep them in their camp. They look down very much on the villagers and sometimes they rape the girls. They do a lot of things.
Q: How was your education?
A: I did very well in school, I was an outstanding student, so I wanted to have the higher education, for my Chin people, so that's why I went to the university. Because my village was burned down by the military, I wanted to be educated to serve my village some day. Since 1988, the Chin people, most of the students, they fight for democracy. If we have no education, we cannot promote our Chin people.
Q: How much were you able to go to classes at Rangoon University?
A: For university life, only two months. I was at the university and the university was shut down. So I went back to my village and most of the time I helped the CNF, including the fundraising, and distribution of the magazines and pamphlets.
Q: What were some of the CNF activities?
A: We talked and preached to the villagers about what democracy is and how our Chin people didn't get their rights. Most of the time we talked about the value of democracy.
Q: Did the CNF have military activity in your area as well?
Q: Was there much government military in your area in 1999-2000?
A: Yes. [several platoons]
Q: In your village area, what kinds of illnesses did people have?
A: About 70 to 80% of the women, they have the gynecological problems. And most of the people have the heart disease because most of the villagers live with anxiety, because the military chases their father, or their brother, or their sister, or their cousin. They don't have the health education, they don't have the health facilities, and it's far away from the town, so there's no health care at all. So most of the babies, when they are born, 95% become yellow with jaundice. More than 10% die [infant mortality]. They know about the tuberculosis and the HIV/AIDS. Most of the disease they have is malaria, and some tuberculosis, and some people get HIV infection because of the Burmese military.
Q: Did people have enough food in your area?
A: Previously, we had enough food, but later on, nowadays, the villagers didn't have enough food, because they have to work for the military most of the time and didn't have enough time to work for themselves. So 60% of the people are in shortage of the food, 40% have enough food.
Q: When you were there, what was the cost of rice and cooking oil?
A: One bag of rice is about 5,500 kyat and one viss [oil] costs 700 to 800 kyat. The price is always increasing, not stable, not going down.
Q: During your two months at university, was there political activity among the students?
A: Yes. I got involved in the demonstration against the government. We demanded some points to the government. To release Min Ko Naing. To release other student leaders arrested by the military. To hand over power to the elected NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. To let us form the student union. That's why I was arrested and detained for one night. I got involved in anti-government action during my student life, and then I lived in the village and I helped the CNF members to distribute the pamphlet and collecting money for funds and preaching to the people about democracy. That's why the Burmese military knew about me, so they were going to arrest me.