UPDATED at 10:08 A.M. EST on 2018-05-01
About 5,000 people protested in the capital of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state on Monday to demand that the government rescue displaced civilians trapped in forests amid fighting between the Myanmar military and an ethnic armed group.
More than 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been driven from their homes by recent clashes in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
About 1,000 villagers in Injanyang township fled clashes that flared on April 24, heading to Tanphaye village on the outskirts of Myitkina where they are staying in nearby woods.
The latest fighting comes on the heels of battles in Kachin’s Tanaing and Hpakant townships that stranded 2,000 villagers with little food last week.
Police stopped the protesters, who also urged the Myanmar army to end what they called indiscriminate shelling, as they walked along a public thoroughfare.
“People have to adhere to about 10 criteria in order to have a peaceful assembly,” said Kachin state Police Colonel Than Oo. “We had to stop them because they protested along a public road.”
About 200 Kachin youths erected a protest camp in the evening outside the No. 8 High School in Myitkyina, but they had to dismantle it after Khat Aung, the state’s chief minister, did not grant permission to the students for the camp.
“We applied for permission to protest and we got it, but someone who doesn’t act in accordance with the law asked us to stop,” said Sut Swai Htwe, the organizer of the protest camp.
“Everybody knows who he is,” she said. “Authorities say something and do another thing that’s different from what they said. We will open our protest camp again, but we can’t say where it will be.”
“As long as about 3,000 IDPs are not freed from where they are trapped, we will continue our protest and demand that authorities act according to the law and in a nonviolent manner,” she said.
Over the years, hostilities in the region, which lies between India and China, have displaced more than 90,000 people who have sought safety in Buddhist monasteries, Christian churches, or IDP camps in the state.
Hindering the peace process
Politicians from several parties weighed in on the uptick in fighting in Kachin state and its impact on the Myanmar government’s peace initiative.
The KIA is one of several ethnic 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 negotiations 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.
“We are worried about the current situation in Kachin state,” said Naing Han Thar of the New Mon State Party. “They must not continue to fight while every party is trying for peace.”
Khun Okkar, chairman of the Pa-O National Organization, cited two reasons for the continued fighting between the KIA and Myanmar military.
The first reason is the government army has been clearing out KIA troops because all the business that flows from China must pass through KIA-controlled territory, he said. The second reason for the fighting is that the national army wants to cut off the KIA's money flow to prevent the militia from growing.
“The government army might think it is easier to control the KIA when it becomes weaker,” he said.
The Myanmar military has accused the KIA of illegally using the region's natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, while the ethnic militia believes the government army has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control before the next round of nationwide peace negotiations.
Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said the fighting in Kachin is one of several crises in Myanmar that are hindering the peace process.
“We have crises in Rakhine, northern Shan state, and Karen state,” he said. “We have too many crises, and we shouldn’t have fighting in Kachin state in this situation.
On April 25, more than 30 Kachin civil society organizations urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court for what they say are human rights violations against civilians and the denial of humanitarian assistance to people in need in Kachin state.
Reported by Aung Theinkha, Thiri Min Zin, and Thinn Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.