Violence and bombings continue in Kachin state in northern Myanmar, straining the civilian population with fighting between Kachin ethnic groups and the Myanmar military forces. Mons. Raymond Sumlut Gam, bishop of Banmaw, a city around 70km from the border with China and the epicentre of the conflict, has sent this report to Southworld.
It is now over 19 months since the first time fighting broke out between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on 9 June 2011 in Momawk Township in the Banmaw region, after 17 years of cease-fire (in the form of a peace agreement) between the two sides.
There are 13 Parishes in Banmaw Diocese with approximately 30,000 Catholics out of an estimated population of 400,000. Apart from the Banmaw and Nanhlaing parishes, the others have been greatly affected by the civil war and the people have fled to towns and border areas for safety. Currently, there are approximately 75,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Kachin state and about 45,000 IDPs (of which 70% are in KIA controlled areas) in the Banmaw region. 95% of IDPs are Christians who want to come together to worship and be spiritually renewed and strengthened by God in this difficult time of strife.
Through Karuna-Banmaw and the parish priests, religious, and catechists, the Diocese is helping about 13,500 IDPs in different temporary camps in the Banmaw region with humanitarian aid from our generous benefactors from within and outside the diocese. They provide materials for shelter, chapels for worship, education, warm clothes, food, medicine, livelihood training, pastoral care, and spiritual assistance. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all our generous donors for support the victims of the civil war in the state of Kachin.
President Thein Sein of Myanmar’s new government ordered the army to halt its offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and other ethnic groups, a first time on 10 December 2011 and a second time on 13 January 2012. But substantial changes as regards the fighting have not been seen yet. In the beginning of August thousands of Kachin IDPs taking refuge in China along the border were forcefully sent back to Myanmar by Chinese authorities. Official peace talks between the government and the KIO took place at least 5 times in Ruili, a border town in China; the most recent talk was in November 2012. During the meeting the KIO delegation proposed a political dialogue (serious discussions on federalism, ethnic autonomy, basic rights, the preservation of resources, culture, identity, and languages) and requested a future role in Burma’s political affairs (self-determination). Some minor agreements were reached, with no overarching concrete solution.
In the Diocese of Banmaw at present, there are about 18 IDP camps in the towns (in government controlled territories) and about 27 camps in remote areas (KIO controlled territories). Most IDPs are women and children, including 15,000 below the age of 15. Over 20 community and government schools – mostly primary schools in the remote villages – have been closed down and the students have become IDPs. Temporary tents have been set up in some camps as primary schools; but there are shortages of school teachers, financial assistance, and educational materials. Most middle school students have become drop-outs. Their parents worry about their children and ask us for help. Therefore, the education and the future of the children have become one of our main concerns and challenges at the present.
According to observations made by health workers working at IDP camps, the most common diseases in the past months were respiratory tract infections, colds, cough and fever (the flu), diarrhoea and dysentery, malaria and tuberculosis, anaemia, skin diseases, and other malnutrition related diseases.
The first time the UN delegation visited the camps in Laiza and delivering humanitarian aid for IDPs was on 12 December 2012. The UN aid convoy, loaded with food and non food items to support about 1,000 IDPs for a month, arrived in LoiJe and Mai Ja Yang on 27 March. This was the second time it delivered aid to IDPs in KIO controlled territories in Kachin state. Mai Ja Yang is the KIO’s second largest town which currently serves as home for thousands of IDPs that are a result of the ongoing government offensive in Kachin and northern Shan.
Since the beginning of April 2012 fighting between government troops and the KIA intensified and peace negotiations floundered. Humanitarian assistance agencies, like NGOs and other UN departments (UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP, and UNOCHA) are no longer allowed to go to IDP camps in remote areas. Many IDP camps in these areas are running short of medicine and health facilities. There have been very heavy fighting in the Laiza area. Since 24 December 2012, the government army has been deploying at least 5 fighter jets and 3 helicopter gunships every day. Laiza is the KIO stronghold and administrative centre where thousands of IDPs are taking refuge. It is located about 68 miles to the north-east of Banmaw on the Chinese border.
I beseech the international community to speak out, by calling on the Myanmar government to stop the violence and the air strikes against Kachin rebels and the population, and protect the internally displaced people.
(On 18th January, Myanmar’s government has announced an end to the military offensive in the area after the approval in parliament of a motion, calling for an immediate ceasefire and resumption of negotiations with the separatist rebels. On the other side seems that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has also “suspend all attacks” against Myanmar’s armed forces) SWN