Demonstrators jammed the streets of Kachin state’s capital Myitkyina on Thursday demanding a cease-fire between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army as armed conflict in Myanmar appears to drag on.
By some estimates, tens of thousands of people from Myitkyina, Winemaw, Namti, internally displaced peoples and representatives from Kachin’s political parties joined the latest of several recent protests over the fighting.
“People, especially women and children, are having a difficult time surviving, getting education and health care, everything, because of the fighting,” Winemaw resident Ywe Gyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We are left far behind,” she said. “That’s why we have been demanding a stop to the war by asking both the government army and the KIA to stop the fighting.”
While protests have broken out in Myitkyina during the week, it is unclear if they are having a moderating effect on the fighting.
The government blamed the renewed fighting on the KIA’s conscripts, saying they are extorting money from the local people and planting landmines to fight Myanmar’s army.
The KIA blames the government for the renewed fighting, saying the army attacked because it wants to clear land in the region.
‘We want these offensives to stop’
Residents of the area blamed both sides as they appealed for an end to the attacks.
“As everybody knows, we are having ongoing offensive attacks in Kachin and Shan states,” one demonstrator told RFA. “We want these offensives to stop.”
The protests may have little direct impact on the fighting, but members of Myanmar’s parliament are petitioning for a new ceasefire in both the Kachin and Shan states.
“We have more fighting after the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference,” said Nang Moe the MP for Mangton Township. “We have planned to submit a petition on the people’s difficulties and suffering in parliament.”
The Panglong meeting at the end of August represents Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s signature effort to end decades of civil wars pitting armed ethnic groups against the national military in many regions of the country.
Fighting in the Shan State caused thousands of refugees to flee the Mong Kung township as fighting broke out there between government forces and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) over the weekend. There has been off and on fighting between the Myanmar’s military and the SSA-S since August.
The KIA has yet to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) that many other groups including the SSA-S agreed to last year, although it sent leaders to the Panglong peace talks.
The former military government and the KIA observed a 17-year cease-fire until 2011, when the army attacked the KIA's Laiza headquarters and nearby units.
Since winning the 2015 election, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made peace and national reconciliation a priority for her government.
Aid groups want access
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs more than119,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including over 98,000 people in Kachin and northern Shan States who have been displaced as a result of the conflict that erupted in June 2011
Civil society organizations in Kachin are urging the military to allow aid groups to reach the refugees.
In September the provincial government told aid groups they have to gain its permission before the can visit the camps.
“We want to urge the government not to block aid groups who are doing humanitarian work for the refugees,” said the Kachin Peace Network’s Esther Kaung Naw.
Reported and translated by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.