More War Refugees Transported to Safety in Northern Myanmar’s Myitkyina

A religious aid group is helping the latest batch of roughly 200 displaced civilians to be taken to Kachin state's capital.

Displaced ethnic Kachin residents cross the Malikha River on a ferry to escape fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and Myanmar government troops near Myitkyina in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, April 26. 2018.

More than 200 war refugees arrived in the capital of northern Myanmar’s war-torn Kachin state Tuesday evening after aid workers helped them escape ongoing hostilities between the national army and an ethnic armed group.

“About 200 IDPs [internally displaced persons] arrived in the city this evening,” said Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, an evangelical organization based headquartered in Myitkyina. “We are helping them. They have to stay here for a while until their areas become peaceful.”

“Their legs are swollen because they had to walk for three weeks, and they are starving,” he said.

More than 1,000 war refugees have sought safety in Myitkyina since April, he said.

Thousands of villagers have been driven from their homes this year by clashes in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of several ethnic militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace.

Residents from villages in Injangyang, Tanaing, and Hpakant townships have been stranded with little food since April after fresh clashes erupted and government troops blocked access to roads in areas where fighting has taken place, preventing civilians from leaving to get supplies.

Many have sought shelter in wooded areas where they have been cut off from access to food and water.

Earlier this week, government authorities evacuated more than 150 of the region’s roughly 4,000 residents trapped in war zones amid fighting between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) from Mangwe village to the subtownship of Karmine in Hpakant township in Mohnyin district, where they are being housed in temporary shelters or living with relatives in other towns.

Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement, said on Tuesday that he and a team went to Myitkyina and the town of Namti to collect the IDPs and make arrangements to transfer them home as soon as the situation grows calm in accordance with a directive issued by the offices of President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

“When we met these IDPs, we got to know what they feel,” he said. “They all want peace and safety. They don’t feel safe in places that are close to combat areas. They want government to take them to safe places away from the fighting, so we are working on what they want.”

“Citizens’ safety is the government’s responsibility,” he said. “We can’t take citizens to safe places without the military’s help. We have to work with the military to take people to safe places.”

Win Myat Aye and his team also talked with local education department officials about sending displaced children to schools as soon as possible, and they provided cash to the IDPs and made a special donation to elderly people, mothers, and infants, he said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of young people protesting against the civil war in Kachin state and the plight of displaced civilians at a camp in Myitkyina will return to their homes on Wednesday, when they will no longer have permission from authorities to continue their sit-in.

Activists arrested in Mandalay

In Mandalay, authorities on Tuesday arrested two antiwar activists for leading protesters on a march through town on May 6, calling for an end to the fighting in Kachin state.

An officer from the Chan Aye Tharzan Township Police Station filed a complaint against activists Aung Hmine San and Daine Daung, and a third individual Poet Kalit, who have been charged under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law. The law allows public demonstrations only if organizers first obtain permission from local authorities, though it does not specify a time period.

Those who violate the law are subject to three to six months in prison and a 30,000 kyat (U.S. $22) fine.

Aung Hmine San and Daine Daung are being detained at a police station.

Lei Lei Nwe, Aung Hmine San’s wife, said that Aung Hmine and Daine Daung were arrested while they sat inside a teahouse after meeting to discuss an annual ceremony commemorating a series of nationwide protests, marches, and civil unrest in 1988 when Myanmar was under military rule.

“My husband asked the policemen who arrested them to allow them to go back home for a while, and they were permitted to do so, [but] after that, he was taken to the police station,” she told RFA, adding that that Myanmar’s military controls the Ministry of Home Affairs which oversees the police.

Earlier this week, police officer Myo Thet from the Kyauktada Township Police Station filed a complaint against Kaung Htet Kyaw, Zayya, Ye Aung Aye, and Myo Saw — members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) and the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) — for organizing a similar anti-war protest in Yangon.

Two other people who intended to march from Pyay township of south-central Myanmar’s Bago region to Myitkyina were arrested in Aunglan township of central Myanmar’s Magway region while they were marching. Authorities charged them for violating Article 19, but released them on bail.

JMC meets

Despite the intensified hostilities in Kachin state, the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC), which monitors the implementation of the cease-fire for signatories of a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA), met on Tuesday in Yangon to discuss complaints it has received

JMC chairman Lieutenant General Yar Pyae said the committee has received more than 400 complaints and has already resolved more than 300 cases.

The national-level JSC includes representatives from both state and local monitoring committees. The body holds regular meetings to review the implementation of the NCA, verify complaints, ensure local participation in cease-fire monitoring, and develop standard operating procedures.

“To achieve the JMC’s objectives, the committee’s current work must be continued and sub-JMCs must be set up in areas where civilians live and the most fighting occurs,” Yar Pyae said.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more having joined since then.

The KIA has engaged in skirmishes with the Myanmar army since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down. It is one of several militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations launched in August 2016 by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Decades of conflict in Kachin state have displaced families, disrupted economic and infrastructure development, and left civilians vulnerable to human rights violations, loss of lives and opportunities, illegal land grabs, and exploitation of natural resources.

Reported by Wai Mar Tun, Khay Mani Win, and Htet Arkar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.