Ashes and Tears: The Interviews
Interview 15: "Mr. Gray"
Male, age 22.
From: Southern Chin State, near Mt. Victoria.
Occupation: volunteer group member.
Left Burma: December 2000.
Q: Why did you leave Burma?
A: The soldiers found out something about my background. They made a surprise check at my home and they found some leaflets. Anti-narcotics and anti-alcohol leaflets, AIDS education. They were from the CNF, those leaflets.
Q: Had you had problems with the authorities before?
A: Since 1996. It was when I first went back to Chin State, when I had finished my high school... At the time, a voluntary organization was forming and I joined it, and we started doing voluntary work. We went around the town and the villages, and taught some youths... and supported them in what they need, and I taught them English...[deleted comments] At that time, most of the youths were addicted to alcohol and some kind of drugs. We told them that alcohol and drugs are bad. We encouraged them to abstain from it. And we can see that some of the alcohol bars were supported by the government. And some of the bars were selling drugs in there. They have opium and some capsules. They're chewing the capsules. And they smoke the opium. It's not well-known.
Q: Did the police or army question you about what you were doing?
A: Yes, sometimes at their office. At first, they just asked the questions and let us go home, but in 1996, October I was detained in the small district army camp. They tied our hands in back and forced us to sit in the chair and asked their questions. My friend and I. They asked, "what are you doing, going around everywhere?" "Do you have any contact with CNF?" They said they had information that our organization had contact with the CNF. We said we had no contact with the CNF. And they started to beat us. They beat my head with their gun butts. The one who punched me was a Captain in the army, and most of them come from other places. Most of our injuries were in the face. Our noses and mouths bled and our eyes were swollen. We were kicked with their boots, so we got a lot of pain all over our bodies.
Q: How long did they keep you?
A: I was chained in the camp for one and a half days only, but after that I was forced to carry things as a porter to the border area. A lot of people had to carry their things. The army came along with us with their guns, they went along by our side. We were ten people and four soldiers. They forced us to carry their equipment from their camp to another camp. Some rations and the magazines of the bullets. It was very heavy, I don't know how much. They gave me only a little bit of rice and no other things, no other food. Not even water, we had to drink water from the stream. [The porters] were three girls, one older woman about 40 years old, the others were men. I had back pain very much, continuing up to now. Even if we took a rest for a while, they punished us, they kicked us with their boots.
Q: When you reached their camp, what happened?
A: I was released as soon as I arrived at the other camp. I learned that my father had given the military officer some bribery, only when I arrived back at my home town.
Q: Do you know how much he paid them to let you go?
A: He gave 15,000 kyat to the officer.
Q: Did you have to report to the authorities' office after that?
A: I had to report to the military once a month. At the army camp. I had to tell them what I had done during the past month, and after that to sign the paper.
Q: Did they ask you to work for them again after that?
A: Yes, they forced me to work to repair the fence of the army camp, that needed a lot of bamboo and some wood.
Q: Did people in your family have to do any work for the army?
A: Sometimes my sister had to do that kind of job, during 1999.
Q: In October/November 2000 in the southern Chin State, was the army asking any local people to do work for them?
A: Yes, they had to work for them, each household has to give them one bamboo and work for building the fence for their camp. In September 2000.
Q: Where you lived, was that a forest area?
A: Yes, a lot.
Q: Was there logging going on there?
A: Yes, I knew that a lot of timber production was going on in the southern Chin State, on the border between Chin State and Magwe Division, Saw township. In Magwe. A lot of teak production. It was done by the timber corporation. It was a government organization. It was all managed by the military. Local people cut the wood. They gave them a little money, but not much money.
Q: What was the rate of cutting in the forest in the last five years?
A: They continue, they are going on to cut the forests, and some of the forests are almost empty now.
Q: Where were they bringing the wood?
A: I didn't know.
Q: When you were growing up, did people hunt for food?
A: In the previous time, they used to hunt the animals in the forest, but nowadays the government bans to hold the guns.
Q: What kind of animals were there?
A: Deer, wild pig too. Bears.
Q: In the southern area, was there any mining for minerals going on?
A: I don't know about mining, but I've heard that is gold or something that can form gold in the southern Chin State. And somebody said there are oil fields. In one place they said they can pick up that petroleum.
Q: Did you ever hear about foreigners looking for those things in that area?
A: I have heard that during the Burma Socialist Program time, there was a German scientist, geologist, he found that gold and oil in that region. After that, I don't know.
Q: In that area, if somebody had HIV/AIDS, could they get treatment?
A: Now there's three people who died from AIDS in just mu home township. I don't know about the treatment.
Q: Were people aware about the disease in that area?
A: Some people were aware of HIV infection, but not the majority. The ones who live in the town heard about it from some books or magazines, or health education.
Q: How would people react to the AIDS information you gave them?
A: Most of the people were not interested about it, because they had no knowledge about it, but then some people might be.
Q: How did people in your area react to CNF, democracy leaflets?
A: The people agreed with those CNF leaflets. They like to read those. Some were afraid, maybe.
Q: In the mountain villages, how did people get news?
A: The villagers can only know what the people of the towns tell them. And sometimes the religious members used to go to the village and tell them the political situation of the country. That's why the military government doesn't like the religious organizations or the priests.
Q: How freely could the Catholic church practice religion in your area?
A: They didn't allow the priests to conduct ceremonies. They are only allowed to have worship on Sundays only. We have to get a permit to build a church, and most of the time they don't allow. Anything we want to do for the church, we have to get the permits first.
Q: Was there any problem with the cemetery?
A: The cemetery is shifted to another place, far away. We have to move the cemetery. Up to when I left the country, it hadn't been moved. But the military ordered them to move it.
Q: Did they say why?
A: They said nothing, but the only reason they told us is that our cemetery is too near to the town. They could see our cemetery from our police station.
Q: Could you get Catholic publications?
A: Not freely.
Q: Was there any contact with foreign church members?
A: They have to go to Mandalay or Rangoon, that's the only place we can contact with foreigners. There was a cross on top of Mt. Victoria before, but it was destroyed by someone else and now they built a pagoda there, the military, the soldiers. They hired the people to build it.
Q: Is there still forest on that mountain?
A: Some places near Mt. Victoria, there is no more forest.
Q: In the rainy season or earthquakes, are there ever landslides in that area?
A: Yes. In the rainy season, we cannot travel from one place to another, because of the landslide there is no more road.