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Several villages located in a zone of heavy fighting in Kachin state have been ordered by Burmese army commanders to relocate as thousands of people continue to be displaced by conflict in Burma’s north.
More than 20,000 people are thought to have been uprooted from their homes since fighting between Burmese forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began on 9 June. The latest victims of displacement hail from Momauk township near the Chinese border, close to where fighting first broke out.
“[The Burmese army] said they didn’t want to see anyone in those areas,” a man in Laiza, headquarters of the KIA, told DVB. He claimed to have been assisting the thousands who have fled to Laiza, but said that those ordered to leave Momauk have been forced to shelter in towns further north such as Magayang.
Otherwise, he said, the government had given them a three-day deadline in which to get to the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, which lies within Burmese government territory.
According to reports from Laiza, around 200 refugees fleeing to Myitkyina and Waingmaw are currently stranded after fighting broke out close to the state capital.
Those who made it to Laiza however are facing the threat of further upheaval, as Burmese troops edge closer to the town. Reports last week suggested that army columns had reached within four miles of the group’s headquarters, and had been pounding nearby KIA bases with heavy artillery.
But the relocation of the Momauk township may be far from a benevolent move by the government, which is famed for its Four Cuts military strategy that seeks to destroy the supply lines that support opposition forces. Civilians who live in territory controlled by ethnic armies are often seen as sympathisers, and either forced out or killed.
Local aid groups in Kachin state are said to be struggling with the flood of refugees. The Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) issued a statement on 19 July saying that a humanitarian crisis was looming for the 16,000 refugees sheltering in makeshift camps along the China-Burma border, who are “urgently in need of aid”.
To date no international aid groups have accessed the region, perhaps in part due to strict government controls that hinder the movement of aid workers during sensitive times.