Burmese Military Accompanies Census Enumerators in Conflict Area

By Yen Saning 10 April 2014

RANGOON — Burmese military troops accompanied census enumerators into 46 villages in northern Shan State where the government is still vying for control with ethnic Kachin rebels, state media said.

The Kachin Independence Organization said in the run-up to the nationwide census, which began on March 30 and ends Thursday, that it would not cooperate with the process, leaving out tens of thousands of people in areas hit by conflict, and in camps for the displaced within rebel territory.

The state-run Mirror newspaper said Thursday that the census had, with the help of troops, been successfully taken in some areas that act as buffer zones between the front lines of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army.

“The census was able to be collected from April 2-9 in 46 out of 54 villages, with the security protection of the army, where census collection had not been possible [previously] because of the restrictions of the KIA in northern Shan State, Kyaukme District,” the report said.

“The census will proceed in the remaining eight villages.”

Previous state media reports complained that threats and disruptions from the ethnic Kachin armed group were preventing enumerators, who are volunteer civil servants, from collecting data on parts of northern Shan State and Kachin State.

Officials at the National Census Agency refereed a reporter’s questions to the Census Hotline—a telephone service for citizens to ask for information about the UN-backed census—where operators were also unable to provide detailed information.

Doi Be Za, a member of the KIO’s central committee, said that in some areas of Kachin State where the army and enumerators tried a similar approach, many villagers left their homes when they saw troops approaching.

“When about 40 people, soldiers and a few enumerators, come into a village, the villagers run away. They have been running away when a column of the military comes into the village for more than 50 years. It’s not because they want to deny the census but because of the military,” he said.

“I heard they were able to collect only for three household in one village in Lwal Kyal Township [Kachin State],” he said, adding that the village has 20-30 households in all.

Doi Be Za, who is also the officer in charge of the KIO’s IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee, estimated that 200,000 people were living inside KIO-administered areas.

State media said data on more than 10 million households had been collected up to Tuesday.