Burma’s government will finally let the UN and international aid groups access all displaced civilians in war-torn Kachin State in northern Burma, a government official said on Tuesday. It had previously blocked international relief from reaching thousands of civilians in rebel-held areas.
The announcement came several hours after the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) agreed to cease their fighting and pursue peace talks after holding a meeting in China’s Yunnan Province on Monday.
Ye Htut, a spokesperson for President Thein Sein, said on Tuesday evening that the UN and international aid groups would be allowed to start relief operations in all internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Kachin State.
“The president in principle, agreed to let INGOs provide aid,” he said, adding that relief agencies and the government would still need to discuss how to ensure security for aid workers in IDP camps in government and rebel-controlled areas.
“We will work with them in accordance with their security protocol, to provide aid in whichever camp and to whatever group,” Ye Htut wrote in an email, adding that “no [starting] date has been determined.”
In recent months, the government repeatedly turned down requests by the UN, the US and the UK to allow international aid to reach IDP camps in KIA-controlled areas. Naypyidaw claimed it could not guarantee the safety of aid workers.
Local Kachin non-governmental organizations have cared for the IDPs instead, but these NGOs only have limited supplies. Some international aid reached the NGOs via China but in recent months this support dried up.
The groups warned that they could only provide rice, cooking oil and blankets, but that meat and medicine were in short supply. Recent outbreaks of diarrhea in some rebel-controlled camps affected 100 children, killing at least three infants.
According to UN estimates from December, some 45,000 IDPs are living in more than a dozen camps in rebel-held areas along the border with China, while another 30,000 Kachin live in government-controlled camps further south. Most have stayed in the camps for many months, following the breakdown of a 17-year-old ceasefire between the government and the KIA in June 2011.
Transport of goods and people to some Kachin towns such as Putao, has also been cut off because of the fighting and local food stocks are running low.
The UN’s World Food Program had been able to conduct operations in some government-controlled IDP camps.
On Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Burma Vjay Nambia visited government-controlled camps at Kachin State capital Myitkyina and at Waimaw, in order to assess the situation on the ground.
He was travelling with Immigration Minister Khin Ye and president office minister Soe Thein, according to Manam Tu Ja, a local Kachin politician.
“Mr. Nambia said he was pleased to meet residents of Myitkyina and to learn about the displaced in the IDP camps,” Manam Tu Ja said. “He said the government peace team’s implementation of the peace process would be successful and we would work together in the region.”