Myanmar NGO Asks Kachin State Chief Minister to Help Rescue Villagers Displaced by War

The Kachin Women’s Peace Network says families hiding in the jungles of Tanaing township are in need of food.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers take a cigarette break as they move towards the frontline of fighting with the government army near Laiza in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Oct. 14, 2016.

A Myanmar NGO has sent a letter to the head of the war-torn Kachin state government calling for the rescue of civilians trapped in a battle zone in Tanaing and Hpakant townships, as hostilities continue to rage between the national army and an ethnic militia.

The Kachin Women’s Peace Network (KWPN), which provides assistance to women displaced by war and raises awareness about the prevention of gender-based violence in refugee camps, submitted the request to Khat Aung, chief minister of Myanmar’s northernmost state, on Tuesday.

More than 2,000 ethnic Kachin villagers in the two townships have been homeless since April 11 after fleeing to nearby jungles to escape fighting between the military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said KWPN founder Nan Pu.

“These people have been in the jungle for so many days, and we have lost contact with them,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Most of their phones have no battery power now, and some who still have phones are in out-of-service areas. That’s why we are worried.”

One person was killed and two others wounded during a clash between government soldiers and the KIA on Tuesday night in Awng Lawt village, Nan Pu said.

Myanmar troops surrounded the village with heavy weapons and prevented residents from entering the area, she said.

“They were separated into three or four groups, and some of them were pregnant women and small children,” Nan Pu said. “They couldn't walk any further, and the last we heard was that they were resting by a stream. They have no more food.”

“We want the government to ask the military to stop the offensive,” she said, adding that Khat Aung has not yet responded to the KWPN’s request.

The KWPN has also worked with technical groups that support the ethnic militias’ nationwide cease-fire team which holds negotiations with the national government’s peace team in Myanmar's ongoing peace process.

Other clashes near the villages of Sut Yang and Sut Ya have forced out villagers who are hiding in the jungle and are in need of humanitarian supplies, the online news service Democratic Voice of Burma reported on Monday, citing local relief committee organizers.

Fighting began in the area on April 6 when KIA troops attacked an army camp near Tadar-nyinaung village in Hpakant township.

Hakawng valley

Earlier this month, the KIA warned gold and amber mine workers in Tanaing’s isolated Hukawng valley to leave before it launched new attacks on the Myanmar army.

Fighting between the two sides resumed in early January when government soldiers launched air strikes in Tanaing, an area controlled by the KIA, which relies on its natural resources as a source of income by levying a tax on mine operators.

The KIA believes that Myanmar forces have been stepping up their attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control of it before the next round of negotiations in the government’s peace conference initiative.

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.

The KIA 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 talks launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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.

Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.