Displaced Civilians Endure Camp Hardships, Resent Armies on Both Sides

By Lawi Weng 21 February 2017

RANGOON — Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northern Shan State say they feel resentment and anger toward both the Burma Army and the ethnic armed groups, which they say have treated them with abuse since sustained conflict began on Nov. 20.

“We villagers have become like trampled grass between the two sides fighting,” said Brang Mai, an ethnic Kachin civilian from Mong Maw village, Mongton Township.

Brang Mai said he hates all of the armed groups, and he hates the Burma Army because it lacks the courage to fight outside the villages.

“They won’t go to fight in the jungle,” he said. “They only came to fight in the village where we lived. If they had courage, they would fight outside the village or in the mountains. No one would care about that.”

Brang Mai is one of many IDPs from Mongton who had to abandon a house or a farm in order to find safety in an IDP camp in Namtu town. The IDPs have no idea when they will be able to go home.
“There are also many paddy farms where the armies can fight. Let them fight each other there if they have courage. But they just don’t have it.”

At the latest count, there were 923 civilians living in the IDP camp in Namtu town. These IDPs include ethnic Shan, Kachin, Lisu and Ta’ang (also known as Palaung).

Some of the IDPs arrived at the camp in 2012, when the first wave of fighting broke out between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army following 14 years of ceasefire. Another wave of IDPs moved to the camp in Namtu town four months ago, when fighting broke out between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS).

Sai San Aye, a 46-year-old ethnic Shan, was one victim who fled Mann Nar village in Mongton Township. He told the story about how soldiers of the RCSS and TNLA forced villagers to drive them around.

“Whenever the TNLA arrived in the village, they forced us to drive them wherever they wanted to go. They didn’t care whether our motorbike had a working headlight or not. Sometimes, they just forced us to drive all night,” said Sai San Aye.

“The Shan (RCSS) wouldn’t force us to drive if the headlight was broken. For the Palaung, we wanted to explain to them that we didn’t have headlights, but we could not speak their language. So they just ordered us just to go,” he added.

“If someone refused to drive, they would beat the villagers. For me, I always gave them a ride whenever they asked me, so I was not beaten. If they did beat you, they beat you very hard,” said said Sai San Aye.

He accused both sides in the armed conflict of being abusive toward civilians.

“If only one side were bad, there wouldn’t be these problems,” he said. “But both of them are bad actors.”

Namtu town became a center for IDPs because it is easy to travel to and well connected by roads.

Most of the IDPs have separated themselves in Namtu by ethnic group. The Shan and Ta’ang stay in the local monasteries, the Kachin stay near churches, and the Lisu live in a separate area.
The IDPs in Namtu say they do not have enough food, and that they are mostly unable to find jobs.

“There were no people who came to hire us for work,” said Sai San Aye. “It was very difficult for us who were staying at the camp.”

Soon after conflict started on Nov. 20, international and local food aid was donated to the camp, but those donations have stopped arriving.

“We rely on aid donations. We eat what we get from them. But if the aid stops coming, we will not have food,” he said.

Sai San Aye has lived in the Namtu IDP camp for seven months. He said that he cannot return to his home in Mann Nar village because it remains unsafe.

“The TNLA soldiers are still there. We would not be safe if we went back,” he said. “They would arrest anyone they see in the village.” He said the Burma Army also patrols the village at times.

Right now, there is only one civilian remaining in Mann Nar, a 70-year-old nun who refuses to flee.

“We asked her to leave with us,” said Sai San Aye. “We could have carried her, but she did not want to flee. She was worried about her property.”

Before the conflict, Sai San Aye owned a farm, and he grew beans, corn, and rice in his mountain garden, he said.

“Now we own nothing here in the IDP camp. We have many difficulties, and we have no land here, so there is nowhere to grow food to eat,” he said.

“If the food runs out in our camp warehouse, we don’t know what we’ll do.”