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Continued fighting in Kachin state could disrupt the delivery of UN humanitarian aid to camps along the Chinese border, according to a local humanitarian agency in Mai Jayang.
Renewed clashes between government troops and rebels in northern Kachin state risks disrupting the passage of the first UN aid convoy allowed entry into the conflict-torn region since December last year.
“On Friday they were fighting along the road that the UN [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and the World Food Programme will come,” said May Li Aung from the local humanitarian agency Wunpawng Ning Htoi during an interview with DVB.
The Burmese government agreed this weekend to let through a UN aid convoy with one month of basic supplies for around 1,000 people. The decision comes less than a week after a scathing report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised the government for its continued failure to provide humanitarian access to territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
It is only the second convoy given access since a 17-year ceasefire with the KIA broke down in June last year. The UN Information Centre in Rangoon confirmed with DVB that the convoy heading for Loije and Mai Jayang left this morning.
Although fighting in this area is reported to have settled down over the weekend, the situation remains highly tenuous. Last week, the Kachin News Group (KNG) reported that government forces have stepped up their military offensives in the conflict-torn region in recent weeks.
“Battles between army columns and Kachin forces have occurred on a daily basis throughout Kachin and northern Shan states since the latest round of talks held from March 8th to10th failed to reach a peace agreement,” reported KNG.
Meanwhile thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in camps along the northern border with China face a growing food crisis, says May Li Aung. With an estimated 75,000 people displaced from the conflict, including 15,000 unrecognised refugees trapped in China, the new convoy will provide limited assistance.
“Aid agencies estimate that food insecurity will prevail until at least the end of 2013, since many IDPs left their farms and lost their harvests, and longer term assistance will be needed to rebuild lives in their areas of origin,” reported IRIN News.
Activists say the real test lies in whether they can secure continued humanitarian access.
“The government provided one-time access in December and now we’ve seen access again, which is great, but it will be essential for the government to open up humanitarian space in a continuous way in KIA territory,” said Matthew Smith, lead writer of the HRW report, during an interview with DVB.
“The conditions must be conducive for a sustained delivery of aid,” said UN spokesperson Aye Win. “The UN has called for the delivery of aid to the IDPs to be sustained.”
Some activists worry that the latest concession is merely a political move intended to sway international opinion ahead of the 1 April by-elections – a suspicion fuelled by the decision to close polls in Kachin state.
“This is a conflict that’s rooted in decades of animosity in very deep political, economic and other interests so we can’t expect to see the conflict to be resolved over night,” said Smith.“What is important is that both parties respect international humanitarian law and human rights law and as the report that we released last week shows there have been serious abuses committed against the Kachin civilians.”