UN Envoy Visits Kachin Refugees

A UN official urges the Burmese government to allow assistance to tens of thousands of people displaced by violence.

nambiar-kachin-305.jpg Vijay Nambiar (L) gives money to a Kachin family at a refugee camp in Myitkyina, Feb. 5, 2013.

The U.N.’s special adviser on Burma on Tuesday visited refugee camps in Kachin state that had previously been closed to international aid groups, pledging to work with the Burmese government to deliver aid to those displaced by clashes between rebels and government troops.

Vijay Nambiar, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Burma, visited the camps in the capital Myitkyina and nearby Waimaw together with Burmese Immigration Minister Khin Ye, government-appointed peace negotiator Aung Min and presidential advisor Soe Thein. They met with several nongovernmental organizations and residents of Myitkyina later that day.

The visit marks the first by a U.N. official to observe the refugee situation in Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have fled fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese military since June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire agreement was shattered.

It was also Nambiar’s first visit to Kachin state, where the KIA has been fighting for decades for greater autonomy.

On Monday, after weeks of particularly fierce fighting, officials from the Burmese government and the KIA met for talks brokered by Beijing in the border town of Ruili in southwest China’s Yunnan province. The two sides agreed to have another round of talks by the third week of February with the aim of reaching a "strong cease-fire."

During an address at city hall in Myitkyina, Nambiar called on the Burmese government to allow aid from the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations into the refugee camps in Kachin state following the meeting between the Burmese negotiators and the KIA.

“As the result of the agreement that has been reached yesterday—for the security of the people of this region to be assured and for the conflict to settle down—I think there is an opportunity now for the situation of peace to be stabilized here, and everybody must take the opportunity,” he said.

Fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA has overshadowed Burma’s reforms over the past two years under President Thein Sein, who has promised work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule.

Thein Sein had ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels last year, and since he came to office, Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 armed ethnic groups.

New talks

Talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin on Monday were the first in more than three months. The Burmese military stepped up an offensive late December, capturing several strategic hilltop positions near the Kachin outpost of Laiza.

The two sides agreed to deescalate the fighting, open lines of communication, and have groups observing and monitoring the situation on the ground, according to a five-point joint statement issued after the meeting.

Soe Thein, the president’s adviser, said that the government had not favored any one ethnic group during negotiations or offered anything in exchange for peace.

“While working on peace, we haven’t given any opportunities to the ethnic leaders. We have met 10 groups … We didn’t tell them that we would give them anything [to persuade them],” Soe Thein said.

“We have [approached] peace talks with an attitude of, ‘Working on peace is good thing. Will you work for peace? If so, we can work together’,” he said.

“With this attitude, we have negotiated peace with the Karen National Union (KNU), Shan armed group, Kayah armed group, and Chin group.”

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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