New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Chin National Army, the armed wing of ethnic the Chin rebel group – the Chin National Front - on Wednesday vehemently denied accusations of abusing the rights of Chin people, who are already vulnerable to Burmese military persecution.
The New York based, Human Rights Watch, in its new report released on Wednesday said the actions of CNF, Chin's biggest armed rebel group, often adds to the miseries of the Chin people, who are one of Burma's least known and most persecuted minorities.
In the 93-page report, "'We Are Like Forgotten People': Unsafe in Burma, Unprotected in India," the HRW said, the Chin people are subject to regular abuses carried out by the Burmese Army and government officials.
The abuses, HRW said, includes forced labour, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, religious repression and other restrictions of fundamental freedom.
The report, based on a research carried out between 2005 to 2008 and having interviewed 140 people, also mentioned that Chin's miseries are compounded by the actions of its biggest armed rebel groups – CNF.
HRW said, "Some members of the CNF/CNA are accused of extorting money from villagers, and harassing, beating, and committing other abuses against villagers."
But the CNF's General Secretary Paul Smith denied the accusations saying they are based on wrong information provided by groups or people, who oppose CNF's political stance.
Paul, speaking to Mizzima over telephone said HRW should be more careful in choosing whom they interview and should understand the factors that forced people to speak ill of the CNF.
"In Burma most people are living in fear psychosis and they are made to think that anybody opposing the government is bad," Paul said. "So, HRW should understand the situation in depth and choose more carefully who to interview."
In the report, villagers whom the HRW interviewed said, the CNF annually collects 3000 Kyat (US$2.50) as a tax per house. And in several cases where villagers do not have money they are forced to sell their belongings to pay the tax.
"Sometimes they actually beat people who failed to give donation. Most villagers are afraid so they just provide the money," the HRW quoted a villager as saying in its report.
Paul while admitting that the CNF collects money from villagers as tax, denied using coercive means while collecting money. He said, until 2007 the CNF had collected 3000 Kyat as tax per house per year but later reduced it to only 10 Kyat.
"We have a regulation that prohibits our members from extorting people or beating them up. If any of our members are found doing such things, they are taken to task," Paul said.
But he said, with the junta constantly targeting their movements, it often terrorizes villagers for having contacts with the CNF, and creates a fear psychosis and hatred among the people towards CNF.
"Also, there are a few people [within the Chin community] who have in several cases used the name of the CNF to extort people, but that's not our responsibility," he added.
While expressing his appreciation of the report, Paul said, HRW should not compare the Burmese junta's human rights violations with the accusation against the CNF.
The report also said many Chins, due to the Burmese Army's forced labour, sexual abuse, torture and extra-judicial killings, are forced to flee to neighbouring country – India, where they are often faced with discrimination and hostility by local communities.
The plight of Chin people, who live on steep hills on Burma's western border, is further compounded by acute food shortages, when the state is affected by infestation of rats that have eaten much of the little food since the end of 2006, the report said.
According to the UN's World Food Programme, food consumption in Chin state is the lowest in Burma.
HRW said despite of the sufferings, there has been little attention paid to the plight of the Chins.