The Chin people, Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar, are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, a human rights group said Wednesday.
The New York-based Human Right Watch said as many as 100,000 people have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar.
"The Chin are unsafe in Burma and unprotected in India," a report from the group said. The report said the regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to commit atrocities against its other ethnic minorities.
Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely accused of widespread human rights violations in ethnic minority areas where anti-government insurgent groups are fighting for autonomy. The government has repeatedly denied such charges. An e-mailed request for comment on the new report was not immediately answered.
Chief Secretary Vanhela Pachau, a top official for India's Mizoram state, said he had not seen the report and could not comment.
"(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity," the group quoted a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents, who are small in number and largely ineffective.
He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.
A number of people spoke of being forced out of their villages to serve as unpaid porters for the army or to build roads, sentry posts and army barracks.
Amy Alexander, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, told a news conference that insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses such as extorting money from villagers to fund their operations.
Alexander said Myanmar's government, attempting to suppress minority cultures, was destroying churches, desecrating crosses, interfering with worship services by forcing Christians to work on Sundays and promoting Buddhism through threats and inducements. Some 90 percent of the Chin are Christians, most of them adherents to the American Baptist Church.
Ethnic insurgencies erupted in Myanmar in the late 1940s when the country gained independence from Great Britain.
Former junta member Gen. Khin Nyunt negotiated cease-fires with 17 of the insurgent groups before he was ousted by rival generals in 2004.
Among rebels still fighting are groups from the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin minorities.
At least half a million minority people have been internally displaced in eastern Myanmar as a result of the regime's brutal military campaigns while refugees continue to flee to the Thai-Myanmar border. More than 145,000 refugees receive international humanitarian assistance in Thai border camps.
Alexander said that some 30,000 Chin have also sought refuge in Malaysia while about 500 were living in Thai border camps.