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An estimated 2,000 Kachin villagers flee to jungle as clashes hit Tanai Township

Ethnic Kachin families construct makeshift shelters in the forest around Tanai in Kachin State, 12-15 April 2018. (Photo: Hkun Awng Nlam)

Armed clashes between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have left about 2,000 ethnic Kachin villagers homeless in Tanai Township as they abandoned their homes and sheltered in nearby forests.

According to relief committee organisers, sporadic fighting since 11 April in the areas around the villages of Sut Yang, Sut Ya and Awng Lawt has compelled many families to take refuge in the jungle where they are badly in need of humanitarian supplies.

Speaking to DVB on Monday, Rev. Mong Dan, the secretary of the local relief committee, said, “The rescue process can only be implemented by the [Burmese] government and military,” he said. “Under the current circumstances, we cannot do it.”

Mong Dan said the relief committee had informed the Kachin Chief Minister on 14 April about the humanitarian situation and urged him to intervene. He said that copies of the letter were sent to Burma’s new president, Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and other relevant parties.

Mong Dan, who is a Kachin Christian pastor, said that in the letter the committee noted that a 22-year-old man was killed on 11 April and his father wounded when Burmese military aircraft attacked the area.

He said that while more than 1,000 villagers from Sut Yang, Sut Ya and Aung Lad had fled to the jungle, other residents of those towns were now also stuck in limbo as many families had travelled to the main town of Tanai a week earlier to gather for a celebration to mark 50 years since the founding of the Catholic Church in Tanai. Those pilgrims cannot now return to their homes either, he said.

“I think we have about 200 villagers from the conflict zone staying with us at the Catholic Church in Tanai,” said Mong Dan.

Meanwhile, the KIA last week issued a warning to unlicensed gold and amber miners in the area to vacate the sites. In a letter, the Kachin army said it was preparing to launch guerrilla attacks against Burma’s armed forces in parts of Tanai Township’s Hukawng Valley from 10 April.

Speaking to DVB on 16 April, Col. Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the KIA, said, “We know that civilians are fleeing to the forests. We truly feel for them. We would never harm civilians.”

The KIA spokesman said that the Burmese military had launched offensives with heavy missiles, first against KIA Brigade 14 in Tanai Township, then against positions close to the Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza, attacks that are continuing until today.