More than 1,000 displaced civilians from five villages in northern Burma have been trapped for over a week without food and other assistance amid clashes between ethnic rebels and government troops in Kachin State, according to a religious group that provides aid for the displaced.
Lamar Yaw, a spokesperson for the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in Myitkyina, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that Burmese troops have been effectively preventing access to Sumpra Bum Township since fighting intensified on July 11.
“We requested permission to travel via the [Malikha] River from the state’s Chief Minister’s Office, which asked for permission from the [Burma Army] Northern Command,” he said, explaining that roads in the remote area are impassable due to extreme weather conditions. “They only allowed us to travel on the road, which is really bad and difficult for transit.”
About 300 households—a total of more than 1,100 people—from Mali Yang, Jara Yang, Nhtan Zaup, Hpung Ing Yang and Sama Bum villages fled their homes as the conflict intensified, the spokesman said. Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) took refuge about 12 kilometers from Sumpra Bum in the northernmost reaches of the war-torn state.
The road reaching from Myitkyina to Sumpra Bum and Putao is difficult to travel even in the drier months, aid workers said, and during the monsoon season it is rarely used at all. Locals familiar with the rough terrain said the route from the state capital could take 10 days to a month in the current weather, while water transit would take only a matter of days.
Conflict escalated in the territory last month, when the Burma Amy asked rebels to vacate camps they had occupied in Mali Yang since 2012. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) battalion seven had reclaimed the area shortly after a 17-year ceasefire with the government broke down four years ago.
Col. Maran Zau Tawng, head of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) Conflict Negotiation Team, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the KIA had requested on July 9 that the two sides meet to defuse the situation, but the request was denied. The official said that Burma Army deployment has increased along the Myitkyina to Sumpra Bum road in the weeks since.
One cause of the territorial dispute, he said, was a primary school building plan that required the Myanmar Police Force and Burma Army troops to travel through the area with education officials to visit Mali Yang.
“We had already told them that the presence of [government] troops could lead to military engagement, so we asked them to postpone their plan. We also asked two government-appointed schoolteachers to stay in Sumpra Bum, where we take care of children’s education with our [Kachin] teachers,” Zau Tawng said.
“When the Tatmadaw [Burmese Armed Forces] came into the area on June 24, the fighting erupted there,” he added. “It has been a peaceful place for decades.”
Clashes have since occurred sporadically, and Kachin troops ultimately lost control of the area, the official said. The KIA brigade one has been providing minimal assistance to displaced civilians wherever possible, but the IDPs will require more long-term assistance if the fighting continues, he said.
Top Kachin officials met with Union Minister Aung Min—the government’s chief peace negotiator—in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Sunday for closed-door discussions about the peace process.