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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Burma minority 'fleeing to India'
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Ethnic Chins protesting in New Delhi, 1/10
Chin groups in India are vocal critics of the Burmese junta
Hundreds of Burmese tribespeople have fled to India, saying they face huge fines if they fail to join pro-junta rallies, rights groups claim.

Members of the largely Christian Chin group are entering the border state of Mizoram to escape the military regime.

Cheery Zahau, of the Women's League of Chinland, said the influx began after the crackdown on anti-government protesters two weeks ago.

Burma's generals face global pressure to halt the repression.

Ms Zahau, who is based in Mizoram's capital Aizawl, said: "We don't have a definite figure but we know hundreds of our people have come after the military crackdown.

"And that is because the Burmese army is forcing our people to join rallies in support of them, and our Chin people don't want to do that."

Arrest claims

There are more than two million Chins in Burma, and their leaders say they have suffered long persecution for being Christians and non-ethnic Burmese.

Thousands have fled into Mizoram over the past two decades.

Ms Zahau said many Chin women who have reported to her after crossing into Mizoram say the soldiers are forcing villagers to attend pro-government rallies or face heavy fines.

The old people in the villages are too tired to resist
Cheery Zahau
"Every household, they say, has to pay up 10,000 kyats [$7] and that's a lot of money for poor Chins to pay. So they are leaving," she said.

Some Chins, including some Christian pastors who refused to march in pro-government rallies, have been arrested and taken to military detention centers, Ms Zahau claimed.

Zosangpui, from another women's group in the Chin states, says the Burmese army has been using goons to force people to join the pro-government rallies.

An organisation called Chiang Khai Phyu i (Pro-government Youth Movement) is dreaded by Chin villagers, she says.

Their supporters are said to go around the villages in Chin states forcing people to join government rallies.

Tialkhal, of the Chin National Front (CNF), says several such rallies in support of the military government have taken place this month in Hakka, Falam and other cities of the Chin states.

"But this support was forced, our villagers were compelled to join the rallies at gunpoint," said Tialkhal, whose group has waged an armed struggle against the Burmese generals since 1988.

'Trumped up' support

The Chin villages have already being denuded of young people, many of whom have fled to India and then gone elsewhere, says researcher Chris Lewa who has worked on the problem of Chin migration.

She says there are an estimated 100,000 Chin refugees in India - almost 70% of them in Mizoram.

"The old people in the villages are too tired to resist anyway when the army or their henchmen turn up and force them to join rallies," said Ms Zahau.

She said that the Chin villagers are forced shout slogans in front of cameras of state-owned TV channels.

"But you can see the faces and you will now that this is all trumped up," she said.

The Mizos, who are ethnic cousins of Chins, initially welcomed the refugees when they first started coming after the 1988 military crackdown.

But Mizo groups, like the powerful Young Mizo Association (YMA), now strongly oppose "unrestricted migration from Chin state" because they fear they may one day be outnumbered by them.

Chins have often faced threats of a pushback by these groups after they entered Mizoram.

Even one of their former parliamentarians, Zahleitang, was arrested by Mizoram police.

Burma says 10 people died during its crackdown on the protests, but diplomats believe the true figures are much higher. Hundreds of people are thought to be in detention.

India has been accused of allowing its strategic and business interests prevail in Burma, and failing to put pressure on the generals.


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