HPAKANT TOWNSHIP, Kachin State — Hundreds of villagers displaced by conflict in Hpakant Township have been ordered by the Burmese military to evacuate their makeshift camps and find lodgings with friends or relatives. This comes despite ongoing battles in the area between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Kawt Bu, who fled her village of Maing Wai to take refuge in Kamaing town, said on Tuesday that she and the six other members of her family were concerned about leaving while hostilities continue near her hometown.
“I want to stay here [at a camp for internally displaced persons],” she said. “But the military has forbidden IDPs [internally displaced persons] to shelter in this area. They say we must stay in our relatives’ homes in nearby villages in the meantime.”
She said that government troops had on Monday led them and about 130 of their Mang Wai neighbours to the relative safety of a camp in Kamaing, but have now been told to move on to any relatives’ homes in the town.
“I cannot accept that there are no internally displaced persons in Kachin State,” she said, referring to what many here say is an effort by the military to prevent the establishment of new displacement camps in Kachin State, plagued by war for years, due to concerns about the optics of a growing tally of IDPs.
Speaking to DVB earlier this week, the Reverend Samson Hkalam of the Kachin Baptist Convention said the military was against the creation of new IDP camps in Tanai and Namti townships because it would “damage the townships’ reputations.”
Fellow Mang Wai villager Nang Awng Lu said that although the troops had not mistreated them, they were afraid of the Burmese military. “Government troops have now been occupying our village for a long time. They say they will not leave until we have all moved away,” she told DVB.
She said that all the IDPs from Mang Wai wish to return home but they believe they have no guarantee of safety while armed clashes continue between government forces and the KIA.
“If both armed groups can guarantee our safe passage, we will return home,” she said. “I would like to request the government to make these arrangements for us.”
Other villagers from Mang Wai arrived by foot in Kamaing late Sunday night. Local authorities immediately made arrangements for them to be hosted by friends, relatives and other Kamaing locals.
The Kachin Christian Council (KCC) began preparing temporary shelters for the villagers, but these makeshift camps may now be evacuated following the military’s orders.
KCC Chairman La Seng said authorities should not have arranged for the fleeing villagers to be sent to relatives’ homes, given the added burden on often already strained resources — such as food, clothing and lodging space — that this would entail for the hosts.
“The trapped villagers are human beings and they should be treated as such,” he said.
On 8-9 May, more than 170 residents of Awng Lawt village who had likewise been trapped in the crossfire of the armed clashes, arrived by foot to seek refuge at the Jaw Masat Baptist Church in Naung Nang, Myitkyina Township. Many said they had been living rough without any supplies since 11 April.
One of those, Seng Nwe, said they had walked for nearly one month until they reached Myitkyina. She told DVB on Wednesday that more than 1,300 villagers remain in the jungle.
“We want to return home, but we are simply too afraid,” she said.