Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 12: Ni Thang
Male, age 29.
From: Thantlang, Chin State.
Occupation: helped parents with their shop.
Education: Kale College and MA first year, Mandalay University.
Left Burma: Sept. 1999.
Q: About Kale College...
A: Kale College was built by the military. In Burma there are 105 colleges and universities. There's no college or university in Chin State. The Kale College is over the border from Chin State in Sagaing Division. They don't allow [many] Chin students from Chin State to study in Rangoon and Mandalay. I started my studies in Kale College in 1993. Because the schools had been shut down by the military before. When the college was opened, we the Chin students wanted to form the Chin Students' Union at Kale College, but the authorities didn't allow us to. We had two organizations, religious and cultural. They were allowed. In these two organizations I was an editor at that time. We could issue a magazine that requested the Chin people to maintain our literature and our culture. There was a lot of restriction by the military to issue that magazine. The magazine was in Chin, Burmese and English. The military government made a lot of harassment of us. I was warned by the military in charge of Kale area, not to issue that kind of magazine again in the future.
In my third year they allowed me to attend Mandalay University. There I was also an editor of a cultural committee. We issued some magazines like the "Rhododendron" Chin students' magazine at Mandalay University. For democracy, for our Chin people. I was sent a letter from the student leaders of ABSDF [All Burma Students' Democratic Front]. In that letter I was asked to make the demonstration to mark the sixth anniversary of 1988. It was known by the military. So we couldn't do anything. The Commander of Mandalay, Brig. Kyaw Than, called in all the student leaders and warned them not to do like that in the future.
In 1995 I was qualified to attend the MA [degree program]. But at then  there was a student uprising started from Rangoon Institute of Technology. So the schools were closed again. So I couldn't continue my studies. But we tried to protect our Chin National Day. [Chin National Day dated from February 20, 1928, at the time of the founding of the first Chin organization, the Chin National Union, a pro-independence group.] Because on that day, the Chin people had laid down the foundation of democracy. Then the military government changed the Chin National Day to the Chin State Day. So the students demonstrated against the change. All the student leaders were arrested by the government, put into the jails and persecuted in the jail.
Q: How many were arrested?
A: Four Thantlang township students were arrested. We were detained for three days. Other students demanded that the authorities release us and so did the people. They were afraid of demonstrations all over the country so they released us.
Q: What was your treatment like during those three days?
A: Sometimes they kicked me, sometime they beat me with their gun butts. Until today I've got marks from the injuries.
Q: Did they ask you questions?
A: Yes. "Were you against the government?" and "We are the government, you should do what we want you to do."
Q: Did you have more problems with the authorities after that?
A: Not big problems, but the Military Intelligence members were going around me and watching my activities closely. What I did and where I went.
Q: Did your family have any trouble with the authorities?
A: No, only me.
Q: When you were doing the student magazines, how was it for printing those?
A: Very difficult. We would have to get the permission from the authorities before we issued the magazine. It was very difficult to get that permission. So that magazine was issued by myself without permission. Our friends printed that magazine, the printer would print it if you gave them enough money.
Q: You were studying History; what was the quality of history education?
A: There's no choice for the students in Burma, they decide for them what subjects the students will major in. There are no reference books, we learn only from the books issued by the department.
Q: Was the University library open to everybody?
A: Yes, but we couldn't find the books we wanted. There were only a few books in it.
Q: Was there computer access?
A: I had never seen that in University and College
Q: At Mandalay University were many students trying to do political activities?
A: With their minds, all the students were involved in the politics.
Q: Was there narcotics use at Mandalay University?
A: In my experience, I didn't see it around the University.
Q: What made you decide to leave Burma?
A: Because of my active involvement in politics and the student movement during my school life, and after the schools were shut down by the military in 1996, I got involved in some other movements. I got involved with ABSDF and CNF as a "secret agent" and with information for NCGUB [National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, government in exile]. Whatever happened in the Chin State, I always informed them. The Military Intelligence knew of this and they were going to arrest me and I knew about it and I left the country.
Q: How would people get news about things going on in Burma?
A: Most of the time, people get information from something issued by some organization, and the news from radio broadcasting services like BBC, VOA.
Q: How many government troops were stationed in Chin State in 1999?
A: I don't know about all of the Chin State. But in Haka is ten battalions and Thantlang is two battalions.
Q: In those areas were there problems between the government army troops and the local people?
A: A lot of problems. They forced the people to porter whenever they went to a village.
Q: Were there landmines in those areas?
A: I never experienced it, but according to the people and the CNF, there's a lot of landmines everywhere in the Chin areas, in the border areas.
Q: Were there any changes in the population in those areas?
A: Sometimes the military burned down the Chin villages. There's a lot of Chin people who fled from Chin State, Chin Land, to avoid the Burmese military. Most of them were going to be arrested by the Burmese military because they help, they support the Chin National Front. And they are fleeing into India and some other places. The amount is increasing day by day.
Q: Were other people coming into the Chin regions?
A: No one.
Q: Did the army ask people to change the kind of crops they were growing?
A: Some crops were changed by the military, they forced them to grow that crop without knowing if it's good or not. And the farmers, they plant those crops in their field and it isn't any good. Most of it is rice. Different kinds of rice. In the southern Chin State, I heard that the Burmese military forced them to grow opium instead of the rice.
Q: Were narcotics being transported through the area?
A: Yes, I heard about it. In the country most of the drugs are produced by the armed force group that has peace talks [ceasefire] with the military government, so both of them bear responsibility for that. I've heard that some material comes from India and some drugs from Burma and it is interchanged across Chin
Q: Was there mining for minerals going on in the area?
A: I have heard that in Tiddim township there is Mwe Taung and there's a mine there, valuable things. The military government has "banned" that area, not to be touched by anyone. It is a prohibited area. So no one dares go there to do something around there. Restricted area.
Q: Do you know anything about foreign companies coming to Chin Land?
A: I never heard that. The tourists are not allowed to visit Chin State and they didn't allow any foreigners to come there.
Q: In 1998-99 were there any new roads being built?
A: In Thantlang township, the [government] military camp was located in two places. In Hriphi and Vuang Tu villages. There was no road to the camp. There's around about 90 villages in Thantlang township. All the villagers were forced to dig that road down to that military camp. One of the Hriphi villagers was killed by the military because of he could not do the work that they told him to do. One of the villagers from Vuang Tu was also killed. It was heard by me, about their road construction and camp construction in 1999.