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MYITKYINA, Kachin State — Criticism has emerged over remarks by Kachin State’s social affairs minister after he said the state government did not know the location of many people displaced by recent conflict, professing ignorance amid reports of hundreds trapped in the jungles surrounding Tanai Township’s Awng Lawt village.
On May 11, the Kachin State government held a press conference in the state capital Myitkyina regarding the Kachin conflict, and the social affairs minister suggested that those displaced and hiding in the wilderness might be located if aerial search drones were deployed.
“There are no trapped people in the village [Awng Lawt]. I don’t know where they are,” the minister, Thin Lwin, said in a notably angry response to a journalist’s question.
An estimated 2,000 people from Awng Lawt have fled their homes since April 11, with some arriving to Tanai town and Myitkyina Township in the days since. Others remain trapped in the wilderness surrounding their villages, not only in Tanai but also nearby Injangyang Township.
Civil society organisations have said the social affairs minister’s comments risked damaging the dignity of the Kachin government, urging state authorities to work harder to ensure the safety of those displaced but not yet out of harm’s way.
Sut Seng Htoi, a leading member of the Kachin Youth Movement Committee, told DVB on Monday that the chief minister of Kachin State acknowledged the trapped civilians during a meeting with the committee on May 3. The chief minister had promised that his government would rescue those pinned down by the recent conflict, she added.
“They know that there are people trapped by the fighting. And he said that [the situation] requires immediate [action],” Sut Seng Htoi said.
“At the moment, some trapped people are arriving to Myitkyina Township every day. The government should question them and should collect their data. The government needs to figure out where the trapped people are if there are no trapped people in Awng Lawt village.”
Seng Ja, who arrived to the Jaw Masat Baptist Church in Myitkyina from Awng Lawt village, said hundreds of people remain in the jungle, with some women unable to walk their way to safety because they had recently given birth.
“The women could not walk to make it to town with their babies. So, they are left in the jungle,” she said.
According to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), an estimated 1,000 people from Awng Lawt and Jahtu Yang villages, the latter in Injangyang Township, remain in the jungle despite the steady stream of IDPs arriving to Myitkyina and Tanai towns.
A faith leader of the Catholic Church in Tanai Township told DVB that people trapped in the jungle were continuing to contact his parish and other local religious figures asking for rescue assistance.
“We have had difficulties when we sought to save them because the authorities won’t give permission. Some elders and children are not able to walk many miles. So, we have arranged elephants for their transportation,” he said.
Reverend Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the KBC, said with IDPs still hiding in forests and many expected to make their way to the relative safety of the nearest towns, authorities should arrange temporary camps to house them upon arrival.
“We can say for sure that people are still trapped in the jungle,” he said.