Burma abuses Chin: Rights group
Bangkok Post

The Burmese military regime is committing widespread abuses against the mainly Christian Chin ethnic group, who face famine, forced labour, torture and persecution, a rights group said Wednesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said tens of thousands of Chin flee across the border to India only for many of them to be forcibly returned home, violating their right to refuge under international law.

"For too long, ethnic groups like the Chin have borne the brunt of abusive military rule in Burma," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"It is time for this brutal treatment to stop and for the army to be held to account for its actions. India should step forward to protect those desperately seeking sanctuary."

A new Human Rights Watch report carries accounts from Chin describing torture and beatings by Burmese soldiers, arbitrary arrest, being forced to work as army porters, and having to give their food to troops.

"The Burma army arrested me," a Chin man who fled to India told the group.

"They tortured me and put me in jail for one week. They beat me on my head and ears -- I still have a hearing problem. Then the army forced me to work at road construction and repair the army camp."

The mistreatment compounds the misery in impoverished Chin state, the report said, which is already facing food shortages after farmlands were destroyed by a massive rat infestation.

Burma is home to at least 135 ethnic groups, a handful of which have armed factions fighting for independence.

The Chin, 90 per cent of whom are Christian, account for about one per cent of Burma's 57 million people and live in the mountainous region near the Indian border. The Chin National Front (CNF) rebel group is still battling the junta.

Amy Alexander, a Human Rights Watch consultant, said anyone suspected of links to the CNF was targeted, while religious suppression was also rampant in Chin State, the only predominantly Christian state in the mainly Buddhist country.

"The military government regularly interferes with worship services... and also destroys religious symbols and buildings," she told a press conference.

The report -- featuring interviews carried out between 2005 and 2008 with about 140 Chin mostly living in exile abroad -- also documents abuses by the armed wing of the CNF.

Human Rights Watch called on the CNF and Burma to end all abuses and demanded that India offer protection to Chin who cross the border and allow the UN refugee agency access to them.

"For a lot of Chin who are returned, they are at risk of arrest, imprisonment, torture and death ... There are very severe consequence that happen when people are forced to return to Burma," Alexander said. (AFP)