YANGON – Some 5,000 people, including members of civil society organizations, religious organizations and town elders, staged a protest in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina on Monday to call for a halt to a Tatmadaw offensive in the state, to allow villagers stranded in the nearby town of Tanai to seek refuge.
The fighting between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has intensified since Jan. 22, causing more than 750 people to flee into the jungle in Sumprabum Township, while more than 2,000 are trapped in Nam Gun, the battle zone near Tanai township amid cold winter weather. Three civilians were killed and five severely injured due to aerial bombardments and artillery barrages on Jan. 26, said a statement from the local Emergency Relief Committee for the Displaced.
The protesters on Monday gathered at Manau Park in Myitkyina and marched to the local government offices.
The aim of the demonstration was “to find a way that people from other parts of Kachin State can contribute in helping those trapped to escape the conflict areas and to provide shelter for them before they can go back to their homes,” said U Zau Jat from the Emergency Relief Committee for the Displaced.
“There is no adequate support (for the trapped villagers) with only a few relief workers in Tanai,” he said, referring to the assistance provided by local relief workers and the Catholic church and the Kachin Baptist Convention.
The local Emergency Relief Committee urged the NLD government to allow them to provide more help to the displaced and trapped civilians and for the Tatmadaw not to bar relief workers from providing such assistance. The Committee’s statement released on Monday condemned the Tatmadaw’s aerial bombing of civilians, putting civilians in hostage situations and for using them as human shields. It said the trapped civilians must be allowed safe transit back to their homes.
The Committee said that the NLD’s silence on the issue was encouraging the intensification of the civil war.
Last week, the Committee requested a meeting with the Kachin State government and the head of the Northern Command to discuss assisting those caught up in the fighting, but there had been no response, U Zau Jat said.
Dr. Khet Aung, the chief minister of Kachin State, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the government response team – comprised of police, immigration officials and Tanai administrators – had rescued over 700 of the 2,000 trapped villagers since last week. The villagers, however, must pass through a military checkpoint before they can get help, he said.
“There are troops deep inside the jungle. The trapped villagers are inside the fighting zone and the civil servants cannot even enter. There are only soldiers there. We sent the Tanai township administrator, police and immigration officials to go as far as they could to rescue the civilians.”
Dr. Khet Aung urged the displaced persons not to flee into the jungle, but instead to try to come to the town to take shelter.
Fighting between the KIA’s Battalion 11 and Tatmadaw troops has continued near Tanai’s amber mine, but the fighting has temporarily ceased in Sumprabum and Mansi townships, U Zau Jat said.