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Inside one of Kachin State’s newest IDP camps

An aerial view of the Sha-it Yang camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State. (Photo: Ryan Libre / Sakse)

As soon as I arrived at Sha-it Yang camp in Kachin State’s Injangyang Township, the differences between this temporary settlement and the many other internally displaced person (IDP) camps I’d visited were stark. Sha-it Yang at this point, in late January, was just three days old; the IDPs’ few personal belongings were piled up in awkward heaps, scattered across the scorched, rugged and uneven ground alongside unearthed tree trunks, pits and piles of dirt. A sense of disquiet from the most recent upending of their lives hung thick in the air.

Having journeyed on foot and sleeping by the side of the road for days, the IDPs had arrived at Sha-it Yang after fleeing their previous IDP camp of four years, Zai Awng — driven out by a Burma Army offensive.

The IDPs, numbering more than 2,000, were relieved by my presence, viewing it as a sign of foreign sympathy for the hardships they had come to know all too well over the years. In reality, however, there has been little to no national or international support for displaced civilians in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), as is the case for the Sha-it Yang IDPs. This is partly because of the internal politics of large aid organisations, but largely due to deliberate interference from the Burmese government in Naypyidaw. That very week, the UN human rights rapporteur was denied access to KIA-controlled territory, which hosts nearly half of all IDPs from the Kachin conflict.

Despite the close proximity of fighting, the vast majority of Kachin IDPs I’ve spoken to on either side of the frontline say they feel more secure in KIA territory than in areas under Tatmadaw control. As the Burmese government pays lip service to the 21st Century Panglong Conference’s ultimate stated goal — as outlined in the original Panglong Agreement, the establishment of a federal Union based on equality and respect for the rights of all Burma’s citizens — these IDPs have never felt further from being part of that vision.

As KIA General Gun Maw said recently, “To talk and live as equals, that is genuine peace.”