Around 500 displaced civilians from Hpakant Township, Kachin State, are preparing to return home after senior Buddhist and Christian religious leaders appealed to government and Kachin rebel troops for an end to fighting by their villages.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Hpakant resident Hla San said that both Kachin Independence Army and government soldiers have withdrawn from the area after the intervention. Civilians were forced to flee their homes after clashes broke out between the two sides on Saturday.
“It will be safe for them to go back as we heard from both sides that their troops will withdraw,” said Hla San. “This is why the people are preparing to go back to their villages today.”
The displaced were from two villages, Nut More and Payar Thaung, and have been taking refuge at a Buddhist temple in Thar Mang Khan Village.
Meanwhile, a worldwide collection of 23 Kachin community organizations penned an open letter to democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday that criticizes the Nobel Laureate for her silence on the Kachin conflict and invites her to visit refugee camps by the Sino-Burmese border.
“Human rights abuses committed by the Burmese army against our people include rape and gang-rape against women and even children, the elderly and disabled; killing many victims of sexual violence; arbitrary executions; torture; mutilations; beatings; forced labor; mortar bombing and burning of villages; looting of villages and other thefts; and use of child soldiers many of which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” read the letter.
“Given the climate of violence, fear and suffering our people are enduring every day, it is disheartening not to hear you speaking out against injustice for those who have been forcibly silent, instead you declared you have a soft spot for Tatmadaw that your father founded, the very institution that is responsible for such miseries.
“As a renowned champion for human rights, by not condemning the abuses in Kachin State you are not only condoning the state-sanctioned violence, but you exemplified to the masses in the country that the notion of conditional human rights is tolerated.”
A schoolgirl was killed and at least five other children were injured by a stray artillery shell when two government units mistakenly exchanged fire with each other for nearly three hours in Maw-wan Lay villages near Hpakant on Sept. 13. Since then, members of the 88 Generation Students civil society group have visited the area to assess the situation.
Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students, said during press conference on Sept. 24 in Rangoon that civilians in Hpakant were stuck in the midst of a battlefield and were unable to escape the fighting.
He said that the government should listen to the voice of Kachin people in order to build a successful peace plan as has been done elsewhere.
“We have much evidence that a ceasefire cannot be successful without listening to the voice of the people,” said Min Ko Naing. “The government should listen to the people of Kachin in order to have successful peace.”
Civilians in Hpakant said they were happy during the visit of the 88 Generation as they could come out and sit in front of their houses as both sides postponed hostilities. There are more than 8,000 displaced people in Hpakant Township who currently stay at temporary camps because of the fighting.
Fighting between the Burmese government and KIA began when a 17-year ceasefire collapsed last June. Efforts to end the hostilities have so far proven futile, despite several rounds of peace talks.