COM­MEN­TARY – Fall­out – Dis­placed civil­ians in Kachin State con­tinue to suf­fer

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Mark Inkey

The es­ca­lat­ing con­flict in Kachin State has dis­pro­por­tion ally af­fected the most dis­ad­van­taged and in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple (IDPs) al­ready forced out of their homes by fight­ing are now fac­ing an even bleaker fu­ture.

Ac­cord­ing to Septem­ber 2016 UN es­ti­mates there were about 87,000 IDPs in Kachin State, 42,000 of those in ar­eas con­trolled by armed groups or con­tested ar­eas, with the re­main­ing 45,000 in gov­ern­ment-con­trolled ar­eas. The United Na­tions Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA) es­ti­mated that 17,400 more peo­ple were dis­placed in Kachin and north­ern Shan states be­tween Oc­to­ber and mid-De­cem­ber 2016.

The Joint Strat­egy Team (JST), a group of Kachin and Shan hu­man­i­tar­ian as­so­ci­a­tions es­ti­mate that the fight­ing be­tween the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA) and gov­ern­ment forces has dis­placed over 120,000 civil­ians.

The sit­u­a­tion for IDPs wors­ened in 2016 as they faced re­duc­tions in sup­plies due to cuts in aid bud­gets. Things were made far worse when, in Au­gust 2016, the army al­legedly started block­ing aid and medicine from reach­ing Kachin IDP camps in both gov­ern­ment and Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion (KIO) con­trolled ar­eas.

On 25 Au­gust the Army re­port­edly stopped a Kachin Babtist Con­ven­tion (KBC) ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing over 10 mil­lion ky­ats (ap­prox. $8,200) worth of med­i­cal sup­plies, do­nated by the United Na­tions Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (UN-OCHA), to IDP camps near the Chi­nese bor­der in Kachin State. The army re­fused to let the ve­hi­cle past and took all the med­i­cal sup­plies.

At the be­gin­ning of Septem­ber the army also pre­vented four trucks loaded with rice, cook­ing oil and beans do­nated by the World Food Pro­gramme (WFP) from leav­ing Namhkam to go to Man Win IDP Camp in Kachin State.

On 18 Oc­to­ber sol­diers pre­vented mem­bers of the Hpakant based Green Land en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist civil

so­ci­ety group from de­liv­er­ing food sup­plies to IDPs in nearby Jahtu Zup Vil­lage.

The sol­diers said they were con­fis­cat­ing the sup­plies be­cause they be­lieved they were go­ing to Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA) forces rather than IDPs.The Kachin State Se­cu­rity and Bor­der Af­fairs Min­is­ter, an army of­fi­cer, agreed with them and re­fused to re­turn the sup­plies.

Ac­cord­ing to the JST the gov­ern­ment has is­sued a let­ter say­ing that aid agen­cies must get prior per­mis­sion from the state gov­ern­ment be­fore they can take aid to IDP camps in both gov­ern­ment and non-gov­ern­ment con­trolled ar­eas of Kachin and north­ern Shan State.

Ac­cord­ing to a JST state­ment re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2016: [The] Myan­mar Tat­madaw [Army] con­sis­tently hin­ders food trans­porta­tion to the most needed area[s] in Kachin State. This is an out­right vi­o­la­tion against the rights of the IDPs and a breach of the IHL [In­ter­na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Law].”

The sit­u­a­tion be­came so bad that on 1 De­cem­ber a group of Myan­mar and in­ter­na­tional non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) re­leased a state­ment call­ing for: “[The] re­moval of all im­ped­i­ments and re­stric­tions, for­mal or in­for­mal, to the move­ment of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid in­clud­ing per­son­nel, goods and ser­vices to en­sure timely re­sponse to hu­man­i­tar­ian needs.”

The state­ment also pointed out that the lack of aid was neg­a­tively af­fect­ing IDPs. It said: “IDPs have re­sorted to de­vel­op­ing neg­a­tive cop­ing mech­a­nisms, such as se­verely re­duc­ing food in­take and tak­ing on dan­ger­ous and high risk jobs, lead­ing to mi­gra­tion and em­ploy­ment in un­reg­u­lated and il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.”

Even the US em­bassy in Myan­mar con­demned the re­stric­tion of aid to IDPs. A 12 De­cem­ber state­ment con­demn­ing the vi­o­lence in Kachin and north­ern Shan state said: “[We] urge im­me­di­ate, un­fet­tered hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­cess to all those af­fected by con­flict through­out the coun­try.”

In De­cem­ber the sit­u­a­tion for IDPs in Kachin State wors­ened as fight­ing in­ten­si­fied. Dur­ing De­cem­ber the Myan­mar Army launched of­fen­sives against the KIA bases of Gi­don and Lai Hpawng.

The fight­ing was in­tense, with the Army launch­ing air strikes. Mor­tar shells started land­ing close to the nearby IDP camps of Zai Awng, Maga Yang and Hkau Shau, ter­ri­fy­ing and trau­ma­tis­ing the res­i­dents. As the fight­ing got worse the sit­u­a­tion in the IDP camps be­came chaotic as some IDPs started run­ning away from the camps, while the rest read­ied them­selves in case they had to leave at short no­tice.

Ms Yanghee Lee, the United Na­tions (UN) Spe­cial Rap­por­teur on the sit­u­a­tion of hu­man rights in Myan­mar, who vis­ited the coun­try from 9 to 20 Jan­uary, said that she had met a fam­ily from Zai Awng IDP Camp with four chil­dren, in­clud­ing one a few months old and an­other aged two who had been forced to flee from the camp into the for­est be­cause of the shelling. There they dug a hole in which they slept for six nights as they tried to raise the funds to leave the area.

On 27 De­cem­ber shells fi­nally fell di­rectly on Zai Awng Camp, which caused the re­main­ing IDPs to flee im­me­di­ately. Most shel­tered two or three miles away and tried to col­lect their be­long­ings from the camp the next day.

Ac­cord­ing to the JST the re-dis­placed Zai Awng IDPs are now tem­po­rar­ily shel­ter­ing at three lo­ca­tions next to the road in the Lung­byen area, where they are con­struct­ing tents from tar­pau­lin to try and pro­tect them­selves against the win­ter cold.

The JST also said that since the fall of the Gi­don and Lai Hpawng out posts se­cu­rity at the Maga Yang camp has been se­verely com­pro­mised and the IDPs there are also pre­par­ing to move to safer places.

Af­ter fierce fight­ing erupted in the Nagyang area, close to Zai Awng and Hkau Shau camps on 10 Jan­uary more than 4,000 IDPs, in­clud­ing 800 chil­dren, fled to the Chi­nese bor­der and tried to cross into China.

On 10 Jan­uary more than 4,000 IDPs, in­clud­ing 800 chil­dren, orig­i­nally from Zai Awng, Maga Yang and Hkau Shau camps fled to the Chi­nese bor­der and tried to cross into China.

Ac­cord­ing to the hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tion For­tify Rights ini­tially the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties al­lowed the first IDPs to cross when they ar­rived at 4am on 11 Jan­uary, but just af­ter dawn they started turn­ing back the IDPs and forcibly re­turned those who had al­ready crossed.

Ac­cord­ing to the JST many of the IDPs who were turned back at the bor­der then headed for Laiza.

The sit­u­a­tion does not look as if it will im­prove soon for the Kachin IDPs and one can but feel sorry for them.

As Ms Yanghee Lee said in her end of mis­sion state­ment on 20 Jan­uary: “Th­ese peo­ple have done noth­ing wrong, yet they suf­fer, merely be­cause they live in an area, where oth­ers fight.”

“Th­ese peo­ple have done noth­ing wrong, yet they suf­fer, merely be­cause they live in an area, where oth­ers fight.”

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