Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has pledged to help alleviate the plight of women in northern Burma’s Kachin State who seem to be one of the groups most vulnerable to a long running armed ethnic conflict for greater autonomy.
The head of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and member of parliament made the pledge in a recorded statement sent to the women by a group of journalists who visited several refugee camps in the state on Tuesday.
The women refugees are moistly sheltered around the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters of Laiza town and nearby Mine Jayan. They are facing health and other problems.
Laiza is home to some 15,000 internally displaced people who have fled fighting between the KIA and the Burmese military since June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire agreement was shattered. Tens of thousands of Kachins have been displaced by the clashes, which have intensified in recent weeks.
The six reporters visited the area, which is near the border with China, to meet and interview women and children from the camps.
“The responsibility of mothers is to teach their children to love and value peace. This is practical and long-term work,” the Nobel laureate said in her message to the Kachin women.
“Meanwhile, please try to endure this situation as well as you can and try to overcome the problem of disunity,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi said that the international community had not forgotten about the Kachin women, and urged the refugees to “not fall victim to depression and lose hope.”
“All women must work together to increase their voice,” she said.
“I will work closely with women in Kachin State towards peace as much as I can. May all women overcome their problems and suffering!”
Mon Mon Myat, one of the journalists in the group, said their visit to the region was made specifically to highlight the plight of women caught in the middle of the fighting in Kachin State.
She said the group had found that many of the women refugees and their children were suffering from a lack of access to adequate health care.
“The refugee women were very happy to hear Aung San Suu Kyi’s message and they asked us to pass a message back to her requesting her to ‘please do something for us to return to our homes.’”
Major route reopens
Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement to the Kachin women came amidst news that calm was being restored in some areas of Kachin State following the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by Burmese President Thein Sein’s administration from Saturday morning.
According to local sources, a 50-mile (80-kilometer) road from northern Kachin State’s Hpakant Township to Mogaung was reopened Tuesday after being closed for nearly two weeks due to fighting between the KIA and government troops.
“Passenger cars are traveling down to Mogaung this morning,” a resident of Hpakant told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“Local people are happy because the route is open. The situation seems to be returning to normal.”
The resident said that as calm appears to have been restored to the Hpakant area, a number of displaced persons staying at area refugee camps had begun to return to their homes.
But he said that at least 2,000 refugees from an area under the control of KIA Regiment 6 had decided to remain at the camps.
The KIA on Monday said that government forces were firing at rebel positions in the Lajayang area near the border with China and their base in Laiza about 6 miles (10 kilometers) away, even though the Thein Sein administration had announced the unilateral ceasefire over the weekend.
The exact number of casualties in the fighting is not known, but the government said Friday that 35 soldiers had been killed and 190 injured in a series of ambushes by the rebels since 2011, in the first official death toll for the military's side.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min and Ye Htet for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.