Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 10: "Mr. Green"
From: Chin State.
Occupation: training officer for an NGO.
Education: BA, Mandalay University.
Left Burma: December 2000.
Q: Why did you decide to leave Burma?
A: I was afraid I'd be chased by the Burmese military. I was told by my uncle that I was going to be arrested by the Burmese military. [because he helped to get a list of political prisoners to give to the Red Cross]
Q: Had you had problems with the authorities before?
A: Yes, I did. While I gave the training about the NGO. I showed my card from the NGO to the military, but they did not know that card or about the NGO, so they arrested me and detained me for one night. They got all my speeches with a recorder. That was in June 2000.
Q: When did you start working with the NGO?
A: I joined the NGO from 1999. My friend had told me there was a post at the NGO.
Q: What was your work with the NGO?
A: The aim of the NGO is the prevention of HIV infection. So we worked for the prevention of HIV, awareness of HIV and distribution of education about the prevention of HIV.
Q: How aware of HIV/AIDS were the people in the area?
A: In the town, we could teach the people and the people know about HIV. But it is not easy to travel around the remote areas, so the villagers did not know about HIV.
Q: How were people becoming infected by HIV?
A: It is hard to find out the mode of transmission in that area, because the government did not do any research about HIV infection. They want to cover all things up. So it's hard to find which mode of transmission is the worst thing. The government always denies about HIV, so it's very hard to find out the actual and the real situation in that region.
Q: What materials did you have in your program, and what language were they in?
A: Posters and flyers in Burmese and Chin. We didn't have enough for each and every person, but to some extent we can do. Because of the limitations of the facilities we had not enough funds.
Q: Did you have any idea of what percentage of infection was happening in that area?
A: It is hard to find the actual facts in the country, because the government wants to deny HIV infection. According to my own research, in one clinic in Kalemyo, I reviewed the blood tests, and 8 to 9 percent of those blood tests showed positive for HIV. That percent is of people who they think may have the HIV infection, the high risk group. In the Kale Hospital, the percentage was lower than that percentage.
Q: What kind of treatment could people get if they were diagnosed with HIV or if it had progressed to AIDS?
A: In that place, when people know that a person is infected with HIV/AIDS disease, the persons around that patient are afraid of him, of the threat of that disease, and they don't want to take care of the patient. Even in the hospital and the clinic, they don't want to take care of that HIV patient. The patients didn't want to stay anymore in the hospital, because they got depression, because they were outcast by society. So the patients leave the hospital and stay at home and the patients' parents take care of them.
Q: Do people advertise medicines that will cure HIV/AIDS?
Q: Are there people who are not real doctors who give injections in the villages?
A: Yes, a lot of the illegal ones. The villagers told me about it. One person, previously he worked in mining, some other place in Burma, and later on he went to Malaysia and worked, and he came back to that area [Chin State] and he was tested HIV positive. He was tested in Rangoon. And he went back to his native village near to Kale. The people in that village thought that HIV positive is the AIDS disease. He was treated by a person who practices illegally, and he gave some IV [drip] line with some glucose, some vitamins and other things to that patient. The patient is so weak, he cannot bear that IV line, and half of the bottle was left. They don't want to discard the remaining [IV solution] so the father of that patient went to continue that IV line, because it is good for that person, it has a lot of vitamins. So the person who practices illegally, he made the IV line to the father of that patient. And later on, the patient died. After that, then the father also died, because of the infection.
Q: In the hospital and clinics, is the equipment clean?
A: In some places, they use disposable syringes. But in some places they cannot use the disposable syringes, they just flush the syringes and other needles with hot water for one time. Just one time. The hot water that they use to flush the needles and the syringes, they use that same hot water to do that again.
Q: Did you notice the rate of tuberculosis infection?
A: I was not familiar with that.
Q: Were people using narcotics by injection?
A: Around the Kale area, Tamu border area, I found a lot of narcotic abuse in that area. In that area they used the IV method, they got that habit from the people in mining areas, where they dig for the jade.
Q: What were the conditions for the workers in the mining areas?
A: I went to Maishu in 1994 and 1995 and Mogok in early 2000. And the conditions of the workers are very poor. Most of the time they didn't find any stones or any valuable things so they have no money. They got depression because they didn't get anything from that mine, sometimes and to replace their depression they use the narcotics. Some people. The heroin is sold by somebody, and they can buy it easily, they can buy it freely. And the syringe and other things, they can buy it easily. It's available easily. They can inject it, the shot they can give by themselves or to each other, sharing.
Q: Do you know about mining in the Chin State in an area called Mwe Thaung at all?
A: I have heard the name of Mwe Thaung, before, several times, but I don't know the work there. It's near to Kalemyo.
Q: Were you visiting the mining areas for AIDS education?
A: I visited to Maishu mining area because I wanted to know the conditions for my own personal interest, and Mogok is for my NGO job. The trip there was not very successful. The mission of the trip was to distribute the condoms to the workers of the mining and to give the health education for the workers of the mines. But that trip was not very successful because of the people in that area were very busy with their work and they couldn't take the time to hear that speech on prevention of HIV.
Q: Had the availability and affordability of condoms changed?
A: The NGO sold the condoms to the public at very cheap price. After that service, the condoms were more easily available than before. They can get them easily in the marketplace and anywhere around that area.
Q: How did you get information, news?
A: The main way we heard information is through the broadcasting services of foreign countries like the VOA, BBC and RFA, Radio Free Asia. And other democratic broadcasting services. The newspaper that's issued by the government in Burma, we're not interested about, because we couldn't get any information about politics from that newspaper. We rely on only the foreign broadcasting service.
Q: Did your office have a computer, fax, international telephone?
A: They had one computer for the office work, and one telephone for local use only. They had no [internet access].
Q: Tell about any Chin cultural problems...
A: They want to change our Chin people and other minorities to become Burman, by the government, all the time. Since the Burma Socialist Program Party time, the way they want is "one nation, one race, one religion, one country." They use this method in this time by the military more than before. Even in our Chin State, our people cannot learn Chin language in the school at this time. The Chin language is not examined in the primary level. Even if they taught it in the school they didn't cover it in the exams. The Chin language is not included on the schedule for the students. They meet only once a week [for Chin language study], only when they have extra time. In Burma, each and every state and division has the college and university. In the Chin State we have none up 'til now.
Q: Can you buy publications in the Chin language?
A: Only some books that are released by religious permission, we can get a small number of. Other magazines and books, we cannot get it. Years ago, to teach the ABC alphabet in the Chin language, we used, "A for Aung San" and "B for Bible" but the military doesn't allow to publish that poem anymore. Because of the restriction of the military, except for the books issued by the church and the mission, there's no other books [in Chin] available. There's a lot of restrictions about cultural things, about shows, even in the ceremonies, we have to get the permits before. Because of all the restrictions, the cultural shows are less than before. In the country, there's a Ministry of Religious Affairs. In the Ministry, there's a Department of Religion. In that department there's only a branch for Buddhism. No other religions. The government opened the school for the "Hill Regions" but in that school they teach only the Buddhism. For that school, the teacher, the headmaster, must be a Buddhist. After they implemented that project, before that my friend was principal of the school, but after that policy my friend was shifted because they didn't want a Christian to be principal of that school.
So it is clear that they want our Chin people to change to Buddhism and be made Burman. In the schools in the Chin State, they forced the students to pay homage whenever the elders come in [with a "Buddhist" gesture], and say the Buddhist words. The Burmese soldiers, whenever they went in the Chin villages, they arrest people and they persecute people whenever they want to, anywhere in the Chin State. The military check each and every household in the town, with their full equipment, about the guests. Even in my house, my sister in law was back from Rangoon because of a terminal stage illness. And some relatives and friends came to the house to stay with the patient to comfort her. But the military came to the house with their uniforms and didn't listen to them, and the military threatened them and treated them rudely.
Whenever they went in the town or the village, the Burmese military opened fire in the air or somewhere, every night to alarm the people or to threaten the people. So the people, the Chins, in their heart, they have in their minds, fear and anxiety about the uniformed people who don't speak the Chin language. Most of the people have anxiety even when they hear the footstep or song of the soldiers, or bark of the dogs.
In every [government] department, the head of the department is a Burman. Most of the Chin people don't speak Burmese, so they are scolded. So they are afraid to go to the departments anymore. Even the small number of Chin people who are educated are shifted far away from the Chin State, so we don't have our Chin people to rely on.
I was in Thantlang and saw when the military government destroyed the crosses that were erected to mark the Centenary of the Christian missions in the Chin State, 1999 January. At that time, the crosses erected on the hill were destroyed by the Burmese military and the pastors in Thantlang town were arrested by the Burmese military. That's why I and other people gathered to pray in the church for the release of the pastor. Like we were making a demonstration. So the Chairman of the Chin State [military government] Col. Than Maung, came to Thantlang and ordered us to get out from the church. He didn't step down from his car. We stood out in front of the church. He said, "don't worship in the church and don't make any prayer meeting anywhere. But what you need to do is work in the road for the construction." The Burmese soldiers and police along with him forced us to scatter out. And only the pastor and the elders of the church to follow him. He told them that, "you are making the anti-government [protest]" and he was going to punish them severely. But they said they were praying in the church to make peace in the region. That's why later on he released them.
One of the female pastors was warned by that colonel that she spoke to the public about anti-government, so he was going to punish her very severely. And he told all of us not to do this kind of things in the future. Otherwise he would give us very serious punishment. Imprisonment or very serious persecution. And so there's no rights for religion or politics at all in Chin State.
The education system is also very poor, so there's no way to progress for education in Chin State. There's not enough facilities, and there's not enough teachers. Most of the schools were built by the villages on their own. In some cases, the government forces the students to wear a [military type] uniform and forces them to shout the anti Aung San Suu Kyi slogans. The military government uses that trick.
When they formed the USDA, they used some students in that association too. Most of the time the students are taken by the government to be involved in sports and a lot of activities so the students didn't have time to study in school. For example, the student festival that was held in Haka, the students practiced for the contests in sports for the whole year, so the students didn't have time to study their subjects in school. But all the students must have examinations that year. Even though they learned nothing in school, they passed the exams.
Q: In the two or three months just before you left, at the end of 2000, was the army asking people to work for it?
A: Yes, they did, for the plantation of tea in the Chin Hills. They forced all the villagers to do the plantation. They forced the villagers to plant only tea. The military got the tea seeds from somewhere else, and the agriculture department raised the seeds, and the [seedlings] they forced them to plant. They forced them to plant it in many areas of Chin State. Most of the places were forest areas. They cleared the forests and forced them to plant the tea. They started in July and August to force them to clear the forests. They were still doing [the planting] in October, November.
I want to tell about the killing of two people during the construction of the road from Thantlang to Hriphi and Vuang Tu. The [government military] built a new camp in Vuang Tu village, that's situation on the boundary between India and Burma. The built the road from Hriphi to Vuang Tu. They forced the people to work day and night. They collected the people from each and every village around the township. They brought the oil for the lights from India, and the explosives to use for construction from India, with money they collected from the villagers. That evening I was in that village when the one was killed in the road construction. March 5, 1999. The villagers dared not to say anything about that killing. The dead body was brought by the villagers into the village.
In that road construction, the villagers including the men, women and children, worked in that work camp. Right now, the military forces the people to serve as sentries to watch over it at night time, until today. They forced the villages [each] to collect at least ten people ready in position to carry the things of the military whenever they needed.
The alcohol was previously not used in Chin State very much, but at this time, the government opens to sell the alcohol everywhere, and they even force the village headpersons to sell the alcohol to the local people. They [government] get the funds from that alcohol and they destroy the morals of the young men.
Most of the Chins in the town and the students who are Christians are forced to collect funds for the Buddhist festivals, and they are forced to work in the compounds of the pagodas for cleaning and something like that. The government employees are forced to work in the paddy fields to grow rice for the government. In Tiddim town, the public water was cut off by the military, so the water would be used for the government's tea plantations. So most of Tiddim has a shortage of water, and even in the township education office they got the water only once a week. That was my experience when I held training in Tiddim. In general they are doing all the things to destroy the morals and the character of the Chin young men and all Chin people.