CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The European Union has committed 12 million euros ($13.7 million) to fund the second phase of its Durable Peace Program in Kachin State and expand it into northern Shan State through to February 2022.
The Durable Peace Program was launched in February 2015 to promote peace and development in Kachin with 7 million euros from the EU for seven local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) helping families in the state displaced by the country’s civil war.
Contacted by email on Thursday, EU Ambassador Kristian Schmidt said the need for peace was “particularly urgent” for the ethnic Kachin community, which has been caught up in renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army since 2011.
Since then, more than 105,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in both Kachin and Shan states and taken shelter in 170 camps, according to figures the UN released in September.
The NGOs involved in the program have been teaching the camp managers how to run the facilities and foster peace and providing internally displaced people (IDPs) with a host of services, from vocational training to trauma counseling and legal aid.
Nang Raw Zahkung, director of policy and strategy at the Nyein Foundation, said the program has helped her group continue its work and even expand some of its services, namely trauma counseling.
“We have been working closely with the IDP communities in the camps, and starting this year we will work closely with both the IDPs and their host communities, like the churches,” where many of the families are sheltering, she told The Irrawaddy.
Some of the IDPs who have received training are now even helping the program as volunteers and staff, one of the highlights of their work, Nang Raw Zahkung said.
With the EU’s continued support, she added, the NGOs can also expand their services for IDPs into northern Shan, where until now they have been shouldering much of the burden on their own.
And of the new 12 million euros, a quarter will be granted to 25 local organizations to promote women’s empowerment and dialogue between the area’s many ethnic and religious communities.
Schmidt said the program “has done a great job in raising awareness among displaced communities on their stake in the peace process. The program also gave these people opportunities for a better livelihood. This is crucial — without the opportunity to make a living, displaced communities will lose their dignity and hopes for a better future.”
At the launch of the program’s second phase on Wednesday in Myitkyina, the Kachin capital, the ambassador said the first phase had reached 85,000 people in 18 townships across the state. With Kachin State Chief Minister U Hket Aung in attendance, he urged authorities to remove any “unnecessary and unjustified restrictions on access for humanitarian and development assistance.”
Military restrictions have prevented aid groups from reaching some of the war-torn areas of Kachin and Shan for the past few years.
“Civilians, women and children cannot become the main victims of this conflict. Nor is this a way to obtain a ceasefire agreement and peace eventually,” Schmidt said.
The EU has committed a total 688 million euros ($786.3 million) to support peace and development in Myanmar between 2014 and 2020.