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Military urges IDPs in Tanai to return home after recent fighting

Ethnic Kachin families construct makeshift shelters in the forest around Tanai in Kachin State, 12-15 April 2018. (Photo: Hkun Awng Nlam)

The military has announced in Kachin State’s Tanai town that civilians who abandoned their homes to avoid clashes between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) must return, saying KIA forces had retreated from the affected villages in Tanai Township.

Speaking to DVB on Thursday, Naw Taung, vice chairman of a local relief committee, said the military assured those internally displaced (IDPs) by the recent hostilities that they could return, and that religious leaders would need to cooperate with the military to send them back. But, he added, concerns for their safety remain.

More than 200 civilians from Sut Yang, Sut Ya and Awng Lawt villages who had travelled to Tanai town on 8 April to participate in a golden jubilee celebration of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Tanai are staying in the town. They are mostly sheltering at the local church in light of the fighting, which began on 11 April.

“We would not [yet] send them back to their homes,” said Naw Taung. “The military needs to give guarantee for the safety of the civilians if they want the civilians to be returned to their homes. Otherwise, the military should not try to send them back.”

On Wednesday, the military announced via loudspeaker in Tanai that no IDP camps would be opened in the town and that civilians from Awng Lawt village needed to return to their homes. In its announcement, the military sought to assure the displaced that the military had brought the village under its control and that conditions there had returned to normal.

Naw Taung expressed scepticism

“The troops from both sides will be based near that village even if the clashes have stopped there. So, it needs protection for the safety of villagers,” said the local relief committee vice chairman.

In addition to the 200 or so IDPs now staying in Tanai town, an estimated 2,000 civilians from the same three conflict-affected villages fled into the surrounding jungle over the past week, and are in need of humanitarian assistance and extraction to safety, according to local sources.