China’s national Red Cross Society has sent its first-ever humanitarian assistance to ethnic Kachin refugees in northern Myanmar, providing more than U.S. $816,000 in food and medicine for thousands forced to flee a simmering conflict that has been a thorn in Beijing’s side.
Trucks carrying 10,000 aid kits from Kunming in China’s southwestern Yunnan province arrived across the border in Kachin state on Friday, where they will be distributed to families in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
The kits include rice, cooking oil, and emergency medicines for families who have been forced from their homes amid fighting between Myanmar government troops and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that broke out anew in June 2011.
The Chinese Red Cross is coordinating with its Myanmar counterpart to distribute the aid, which was announced by the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar on Wednesday.
Some of the kits were passed out near Laiza on Friday and more will be dropped off Saturday at camps near the Houqiao-Kambaiti border checkpoint, where the groups will hold a handover ceremony.
KIA and government territory
The kits will reach IDP camps in both Myanmar government-controlled and KIA-controlled territory, even those in remote areas, Kachin State Red Cross Supervisory Committee Secretary Ganish told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We will provide these [items] to camps that are far away from the cities and difficult to reach, such as the camps in Bhamo, Shwegu, Mogaung, Mohnyin, Puta-O, and Panwa townships,” he said.
“The kits … include food such as, rice, cooking oil, salt, and sugar. There will be blankets and other everyday necessities,” he said.
Dwe Pe Sa, chairman of the KIA’s victim relief committee, welcomed the supplies, saying they would help out 4,200 families in Laiza, home of the KIA headquarters.
“This is the first time they have provided aid for Kachin IDPs,” he said.
Fighting between the government and KIA has caused Beijing headaches since it reignited after a 17-year cease-fire between the two sides was shattered more than two and a half years ago, sending thousands across the border into Yunnan.
In August 2012, Chinese authorities expelled thousands of Kachins back into Yunnan, drawing concern from the U.N. and rights groups.
Keen to invest in resource-rich Kachin state, Beijing has sent envoys to mediate peace talks between the KIA and negotiators from Myanmar President Thein Sein’s government, which is racing to end conflict with ethnic rebels to speed up reforms after decades of military rule.
The KIA has joined talks aimed at a nationwide cease-fire accord involving all of the country’s ethnic armed rebel groups, but has not yet signed its own individual full cease-fire agreement with the government.
Government peace negotiators are scheduled to meet with ethnic rebel groups in Hpa-An, capital of eastern Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) state in March, after several rounds of talks were already delayed.
But the talks have been marred by a spike in fighting in Kachin state in recent weeks, with the KIA accusing the military of undermining peace efforts by staging fresh attacks against instead of drawing down troop numbers.
Tensions in Kachin-state remain high this week after the Myanmar military took the Ja Ing Yang and Hka U outposts near Laiza on Feb. 11 and 12, the Kachin News Group reported Thursday.
On Wednesday, the International Red Cross and the Myanmar Red Cross Society delivered its first shipment of aid to remote Puta-O district, Kachinland news group reported.
U.N. aid to Kachin state was halted after the conflict broke out in 2011, with the first convoy in nearly two years sent to Laiza in June 2013 following the start of cease-fire talks in January that year.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min and Win Naing for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.