Tens of thousands of internally displaced war refugees in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state say they state have not yet been able to return home, nine years after fighting resumed between the Myanmar military and the state’s ethnic rebel force.
Fighting in Kachin state and in other regions of Myanmar has thwarted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her goal of ending numerous civil wars and building a democratic federal union that embraces ethnic regions, as she enters the last eight months of her five-year term.
Myanmar's northernmost state — bordered by China and India and rich with jade, gold and timber — has been rocked by a resurgence of armed conflict since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the Myanmar Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down.
The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 105,000 of the mostly Christian Kachin displaced in 170 camps in both Kachin and neighboring northern Shan state, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Though the internally displaced persons (IDPs) say they are still waiting for the government army to sign a bilateral truce with the KIA, they report less fighting and improved cooperation between the two sides with the Kachin rebel force recently accepting medical supplies from the national military for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“It is very inconvenient to stay here,” said Faung Yan Lu, an IDP who resides at the Shwe Set camp in Myitkyina township. “That’s why we want to return home. But it is impossible because fighting is still going on.”
Some humanitarian organizations have suggested that the IDPs should not go back to their villages unless the two sides agree to end their hostilities.
“It is still not a good time for us to return home according to situation on the ground,” said Francis Saw Htoo, director of the Humanity Institute in Kachin state’s capital Myitkyina. “There is no systematic plan to clear landmines, and the government army and the KIA have no plan or agreement for the IDPs to return home.”
“If we return home in this situation, we won’t feel secure physically or mentally,” he said.
Landmines and other problems
Some IDPs from the Nangsang Yang, Injangyang, and Nogmung camps in Waingmaw township have returned home, but they are fearful for their survival because of landmines that litter the area.
Rev. Joseph Youngwa from the Nang Sang Yang Church said the IDPs now face shortages of potable water and electricity in the underdeveloped state.
“We dug five wells for them last year, but it has not been enough,” he said. “We have a lot of IDPs in our church, and we are going to face a water shortage problem when schools soon reopen.”
“We also have an electricity problem,” he added. “We used small solar plates last year. If the government or other organizations still cannot provide electricity, it would be good for us to receive solar plates as donations.”
The Myanmar government has refused to allow international NGOs help the IDPs, but now the KIA and the Kachin Human Rights Committee are working together to help displaced civilians return home.
Before their efforts can be realized, government leaders at the national level, the KIA, and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), must first reach an agreement for the IDPs to go back to their villages, said Khar Li, secretary of the Kachin Human Rights Committee.
“They can return home safely only after there is an agreement between the government and the KIO,” he said.
Reported by Elizabeth Jangma for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.