U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell on Tuesday voiced concerns about aid to refugees in rebel-controlled areas of Kachin state amid ongoing fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops.
In his first trip to Kachin since becoming ambassador in July, Mitchell visited aid camps in the government-controlled areas of Myitkyina, Minela, and Waingmaw in the northern state, where fighting has forced tens of thousands from their homes since last year.
But he voiced “great concern” about access to camps in areas controlled by the rebels, where Burma has banned access for foreign aid workers.
“We are concerned first and foremost about the humanitarian situation,” he told reporters in Myitkyina, the state capital.
“We came here … to learn about the continuing and worsening violence here and our particular concern about the plight of IDPs [internally displaced persons] and the inability to get the sufficient access and resources to them.”
“The issue of access, not just in government-controlled areas but in also in non-government-controlled areas, is of great concern to us,” he said.
Mitchell also met in Myitkyina with government officials, local civil society groups, and members of Kachin groups negotiating peace talks with the government.
San Aung, a mediator in the talks, said that Mitchell wanted to know how the U.S. could provide aid for refugees in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the rebel group seeking greater autonomy in the state.
“He asked me if they could help the refugees who are … living in KIO-controlled areas,” he told RFA’s Burmese Service. “[He] said that they want to find a way.”
Earlier this month, the U.N.’s head of humanitarian affairs Valerie Amos appealed to Burma to allow the U.N. access to civilians affected by the strife in KIO-controlled areas.
For almost six months the U.N. has not been able to provide assistance to almost 40,000 people because it is not permitted to enter areas controlled by the rebels, Amos said.
According to the U.N., some 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since a 17-year ceasefire agreement was shattered in June of last year, rekindling a decades-old conflict.
During the U.S. delegation’s visit on Tuesday, Kachin rebels seized control of a police station in Karmaing township in the northern part of the state, according to Bauk Jar, a member of the National Democratic Force party who mediates peace talks with the government.
One police sergeant and two women were killed in the attack, Bauk Jar said.
Several rounds of talks between the Burmese government and the KIO since November have yielded little outcome, with both sides saying they are defending themselves from the other in the ongoing violence.
Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 other armed ethnic groups since a new reformist government led by President Thein Sein came to power in March last year.
Thein Sein has ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels and promised to work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule in Burma, which has been embroiled in wars with ethnic groups in its borderlands since the country was founded in 1948.
Mitchell said that national reconciliation and an end to conflict is crucial to Burma’s future and its relationship with the U.S.
“We will see the other ways that we can contribute constructively to national reconciliation,” Mitchell said.
“We think that is in the interest of the country, we think it’s in the interest of regional stability, we think it has a humanitarian component, and we think it’s a confidence-builder for our relationship with the country as a whole.”
The U.N. has also expressed “major concern” over those displaced by violence in other areas of Burma, including over 100,000 people in Rakhine state forced to flee ethnic clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingyas this year.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.