MYITKYINA, Kachin State — More than 5,000 local residents took to the streets in Kachin State’s Myitkyina on Monday, calling for the government’s intervention to rescue displaced persons trapped in forests amid clashes.
Locals gathered at Manaw grounds and marched around the town, holding placards that urged the government not to neglect the people trapped in clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and calling on the Tatmadaw to stop airstrikes on civilians.
Citing the government’s slogan ‘together with the people’ protesters also urged the government to try to understand the troubles facing them.
Nan Pu, one of the organizers of the protest, said: “Those trapped in forests, especially women, pregnant women, elderly people and children under five years old are suffering. Therefore, we have called on the government and the military to have mercy and let them go as soon as possible.”
Besides those trapped in forests, others sheltering in churches have to live in crowded conditions and are short of food, said Nan Pu.
“Churches and Christian associations can only give what they have. Yesterday, they only had pea soup with a little vermicelli. We feel sorry for them. Though donors are donating as much as they can, there are many displaced persons to care for,” she said.
Protesters urged the government to provide security for people trapped in clashes and take them to a safe location. They also called on the Tatmadaw to stop attacks immediately and to solve the problems through political means without military pressure.
The clashes between the Tatmadaw and KIA since 2011 have forced more than 100,000 locals to 160 internally displaced person (IDP) camps.
Tatmadaw attacks since April have forced some 2,000 locals to flee from Awng Lawt village in Tanai Township, 160 from Lai Nawng Hku in Hpakant Township, 1,000 locals from Kasung and Zup Mai villages in Mogaung Township, and 2,000 locals from 10 villages in Injangyang Township.
About 3,000 people are taking shelter at churches in nearby townships, and some 2,000 from Tanai are still trapped in forests since April 11 despite the fact that Kachin religious leaders and civil society organizations have requested that the Kachin State chief minister and Tatmadaw officials rescue them.
“The last time I was in contact with them was on April 17. They said they had no food and I don’t know what happened to them after that,” said Naw Tawng, vice chairman of the All Christian Order IDP Assistance Committee based in Tanai.
“I want the government to mediate between the two sides to de-escalate the clashes,” said Rev. Bawk La, general secretary of the Myitkyina Christian Council who is also one of the organizers of the protest.
Christian and Buddhist religious leaders, leaders of Kachin political parties, political, human rights and environmental activists, and Myitkyina locals took part in the protest.
“Even North Korea and South Korea have met for peace now. Why can’t our national brethren find a solution at the table and live peacefully?” asked Buddhist monk Ashin Pinnavumsa.
“The Tatmadaw does not treat us like humans. They oppress us with arms. We don’t have human rights. We don’t like that. That’s why I joined the protest,” said Gin Sao Shwe, 80, from Myitkyina’s Sitapu Ward.
La Dum Naw, a resident of Yuzana Ward in Myitkyina who participated in the protest, drew attention to reports that the Tatmadaw accuses Kachin locals of being KIA members and then tortures and kills them.
The Northern Command of the Tatmadaw issued a notification on April 20 addressed to displaced persons stating that it only attacked KIA outposts and made sure that villages and locals were not affected by the attacks, as well as that it would provide assistance to those returning to their homes.
“People have become a scapegoat. They will go back only when they feel safe to do so. I hope that the government and the Tatmadaw will pay heed to the wishes of the people expressed at the protest,” said Manan Tuja, chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP).
Demonstrators plan to stage another round of protests on Monday evening and to continue demonstrating until those trapped in the forests are safely evacuated.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.