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At odds with military in Kachin, minister supports new IDP camps ‘if necessary’

Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement meets Kachin IDPs. (Photo: Ye Mon / DVB)

TANAI TOWNSHIP, Kachin State — Although the Burmese military does not want camps established for internal displaced persons (IDPs) who recently fled their homes due to clashes between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, a cabinet official for the National League for Democracy-led government has insisted that camps should be set up if necessary.

The military has so far prevented Christian leaders in Tanai Township, Kachin State, from building temporary shelters for the new IDPs and is additionally applying pressure on those displaced to return to their homes — critics say, without sufficient guarantees for their safety.

Speaking to DVB on Sunday, Dr. Win Myat Aye, the Union minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, said no one with a stake in the recent conflict wanted to see new IDP camps created without good reason, but he added that government policy did not consist of a blanket-refusal to allow humanitarian measures along those lines.

“The people also don’t want to see [new] IDP camps. But we should build the IDP camps if necessary,” he said. “The government’s policy is intended to see that the people don’t struggle due to the clashes between the two armed groups.”

His remarks appeared to expose policy rifts that have opened in recent months regarding IDP issues and, more broadly, Burma’s peace process.

In the past week, for example, the government gave permission to Christian leaders to mobilise a team to rescue civilians pinned down by conflict in Kachin State’s Mang Wai village, part of Hpakant Township, but the military has prevented any humanitarian convoy from reaching the affected population.

Reverend Samson Hkalam, general-secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said the Burmese military has not allowed the establishment of new IDP camps in Tanai and Namti townships because it would “damage the townships’ reputations.”

“The military ordered that the displaced persons cannot be allowed to live in [existing] camps. Also they won’t allow building [new] shelters for the IDPs. It is bad for human rights,” he said.

According to the Kachin Baptist Convention, there are about 130 IDP camps across both government- and non-government-controlled territories, with most of those camps having been set up since a ceasefire between the previous quasi-civilian government and the Kachin Independence Army broke down in 2011.

Manam Tuja, chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party and a former leader of the Kachin Independence Organisation, told DVB on Monday that the government and military need to negotiate and work together if the country’s peace process is to succeed, adding that the military must attend to the needs of civilians affected by conflict.

“The military continues the clashes of their own volition. They need to negotiate with the government. We can see that the government has no power to control the military,” he said. “It is so bad for our country.”