Ethnic Issues

Min Ko Naing on Shan State IDPs: ‘Children Said They Would Like to go Back Home’

By Kyaw Kha 14 December 2015

Over 6,000 civilians were forced to flee their homes in central Shan State to escape fighting between the Burma Army and the Shan State Army-North which first erupted in early October. Members of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, including renowned pro-democracy activist and former political prisoner Min Ko Naing, recently visited camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state. In a three-day visit which began on December 6, the activists provided IDPs with foodstuffs and gave snacks, toys, books and notebooks to displaced children, as well as letters and paintings from children in Rangoon and other urban centers in Burma. The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha recently spoke with Min Ko Naing about the plight of IDPs in the state.

How many IDP camps have you visited and how many IDPs were there?

Mainly two, Wang Wa and Hai Pa. There were thousands of IDPs at Wang Wa IDP camp and there were even more at Hai Pa. Most of the IDPs in Wang Wa are Shan people while IDPs sheltering in Hai Pai were mostly from other ethnicities. The weather was severe and the chance of contracting communicable diseases was high. As the life they have to live is different from what they are used to, they have difficulties.

What kind of difficulties are IDPs facing?

I found that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was providing blankets. One problem is there are not enough doctors though there is an [adequate] supply of medicines. We provided contacts to get doctors. Again, most of the children are school-age and there is only one school there.

How was the condition of the roads to IDP camps?

Roads were in very bad condition beginning from Mongyai. Only four-wheel drive vehicles will travel on bumpy roads. I saw some small but heavily overloaded vehicles. It is too risky. But they had no choice.

What did the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society give to IDPs there?

In fact, we just transported the contributions made by well-wishers. Some social organizations as well as students of university student unions also accompanied us on the trip. We went there mainly for children. We brought note books and story and cartoon books to boost their morale. We also brought letters and paintings sent by children in Rangoon and other major towns. Mainly, we brought toys. At the moment we gave them those things, they forgot their hardship and felt the love and compassion between humans. I can tell you for sure that those [gifts] helped relieve them from their miserable experiences.

You gave toys and paintings to children. How did you get that idea?

We adults have striven for peace. But I think a whimpering child touches the heart more than one hundred men preaching for peace. In Rangoon, we presented a documentary [on displaced children affected by clashes] shot by director Shin Daewi to children. They were moved by the documentary and promised to do whatever they possibly could. So they wrote letters of comfort and introduction and gave their toys and cartoon books. What is noticeable was that I only found fun items when I looked in the bags packed with toys. When I asked why there were no toy guns, a child answered: “Because of guns, fighting is going on. So we are not going to give them guns.” That was memorable.

When we gave the stuff to children at IDP camps, children responded [positively]. They drew pictures. That’s the life people want. Their paintings featured flowers, the sun and family members together at home. Children said they would like to go back home. That still echoes in my ear.

The next government will have to engage in the peace process with both signatories and non-signatories of the nationwide ceasefire accord. What role will the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society play?

We’ve always said that we’ll only play a part if necessary. If there is no longer a need for us, we have no reason to play a part. Everyone needs to bear in mind that a federal Union with full democratic rights should be guaranteed. We’ll fill in if there is a gap [somewhere]. The most important thing is that it must be achieved. Stakeholders are responsible for this. We’re only happy if it is successful.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko