Kachin Aid Group Halts Humanitarian Work After Threat by Myanmar Army

The military threatens to take legal action against the Kachin Baptist Convention under the Unlawful Association Act.

Aid workers from the World Food Programme deliver supplies to civilians affected by armed conflict in Waingmaw township, Myitkyina district, northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, in an undated photo.

An evangelical Christian organization based in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state has stopped its humanitarian work in areas controlled by an ethnic militia in the conflict-ridden region after the Myanmar military warned that it would take action against the group for associating with an illegal entity, an official from the NGO said Friday.

The Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), headquartered in the state capital Myitkyina, has helped civilians displaced by fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar forces since hostilities resumed in June 2011 following the breakdown of a 17-year bilateral peace accord.

A surge in the clashes this year in the long-running civil war between the KIA and Myanmar army has displaced more than 7,400 civilians in Hpakant, Tanaing, and Injangyang townships since early April, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The fighting forced more IDPs into camps between Myanmar-China border posts Nos. 6 and 8 in Waingmaw township in Myitkyina district, joining some 5,000 others already living there, according to the KBC.

The Myanmar army said KBC members delivered food supplies to the newly arrived IDPs in the area in early May.

“The refugees are in danger during this rainy season,” Rev. Hkalam Samson, the KBC’s general secretary, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “That’s why we have been helping them.”

Colonel Thura Myo Tin, Kachin state’s security and border affairs minister, sent the KBC a letter dated May 21, telling the organization to stop going to the border camps to help the IDPs or risk being charged under Article 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Association Act because the camps are in KIA-controlled territory, he said.

“Actually, every border area in Kachin state is KIA-controlled territory,” Hkalam Samson added.

'Not helping the KIA'

The Unlawful Association Act was used during Myanmar’s decades of military junta rule to detain those linked to rebel groups, and it continues to be used to jail people in Kachin state for allegedly being in contact with the KIA.

It sets out prison terms of two to three years and a possible fine for being a member of an “unlawful association,” making contributions to one, or assisting its operations.

The KBC — the main domestic aid organization in Kachin state — has been helping IDPs for seven years, along with United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, Hkalam Samson said.

“We all are helping all IDPs,” he said. “We are not helping the KIA.”

The KBC is planning to send a response to the ministry, he added.

Intensified clashes between the KIA and Myanmar forces this year have raised questions about the military’s possible role in hindering the government’s efforts to end the country’s civil wars and forge lasting peace.

Since 2011, more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Kachin state, many of whom have been unable to return to their homes as the conflict continues.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.