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700 Kachin villagers flee to forest to escape fighting

FILE PHOTO: Ethnic Kachin IDPs gather at the Jam Mai Kaung IDP camp in Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State, on 30 July 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Some 700 Kachin villagers have abandoned their homes and are currently sheltering in a forest due to intense fighting between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The continuing hostilities, which began on 19 January in Sumprabum township, Putao District, in northernmost Kachin State, have included rounds of mortar fire and artillery.

Speaking to DVB today, Rev. Samson Hkalam, the general-secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), said that aid workers were unable to access the forest in Sumprabum because of the ongoing fighting.

“The Tatmadaw [Burmese military] won’t allow us into that area,” he said. “The forest where the villagers fled is inaccessible to land transport. We must find out how to get supplies into these people’s hands.”

He added: “It’s about 100 miles from [state capital] Myitkyina to Sumprabum, and there are no good roads.”

It was reported that Burmese army mortar shells nearly hit a kindergarten in Ndup Yang camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The Joint Strategy Team (JST) for Humanitarian Response in Kachin and Northern Shan State (JST) – an alliance of Kachin civil society and faith-based groups – released a statement earlier today saying that it was gravely concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the civilian population, including IDPs, in the remote Sumprabum area.

JST called for an immediate response and a sustained humanitarian effort to assist those civilians caught in the conflict.

Lamai Gunja, spokesperson for the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG), told DVB on Wednesday that the KIA and Burmese military have reached a military deadlock, and that both sides should sit down and open talks immediately.

“Last year, we [PCG] tried to mediate between both parties,” he said. “But now they never contact us.”

PCG said there had been armed clashes in Hpakant, central Kachin State, on 21 January between the Kachin rebels and Burmese troops, and renewed skirmishes between the two sides in Laiza and Tanai townships.

In northern Kachin State’s Mansi Township, more than 2,000 IDPs continue to live in makeshift camps some four years after fleeing their villages to escape the conflict.

“The KBC provides most of the rations,” said IDP representative Naw Mai. “The World Food Programme and other aid organisations have also assisted over the years. Most adult IDPs in the camp have now taken odd-jobs to help meet their needs.”

A second IDP representative, Brang Nu, told DVB: “Whether or not major clashes break out, there is still a heavy military presence in the area. It is simply not safe for these people to return to their home villages.”

A military court recently sentenced six Burmese soldiers to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour for the killing of three Kachin IDPs.

Reporting from Mansi by Paing Soe