The Irrawaddy

Father Recalls Family’s 3-Month Jungle Ordeal After Fleeing Fighting

Mon State — Zing Thung Sunday, an ethnic Kachin, recalled how he and his family had to hide and survive in the jungle for nearly three months after fleeing their village in Tanai Township, Kachin State, when fresh fighting broke out on April 11 between the Myanmar military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

“While I was in my garden near the Tanai River, where I grew vegetables, I heard the explosions. Then I went back home and fled the village with my family,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Together with his younger brother’s family, a nine of them finally made it to the Jaw Masat camp for displaced people in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin, on Sunday — after 86 days in the jungle.

“My family did not have food, but my younger brother brought some. So we shared it with each other to survive,” he said. “We ate rice soup sometimes, but sometimes we also ate grasses that we found.”

Theirs was the last group to flee Awng Lawt village, he said, so they weren’t able to follow their neighbors to the camps in Myitkyina.

Seng Ja, who helps manage the Jaw Masat camp, told The Irrawaddy that when the two families arrived they were exhausted and dirty and that the four children in particular, the youngest of them 7 years old, appeared to have lost much weight.

The camp was set up in April soon after the fighting between the military and KIA broke out and now shelters 596 people.

Seng Ja said the four children showed signs of trauma as well and that she would take them to get mental health treatment on Sunday.

Zing Thung Sunday said his youngest daughter also had wounds on her feet from the many days of walking they did to reach the Tanai River, avoiding landmines and hiding from Myanmar military soldiers along the way.

But Zing Thung Sunday said they were lucky to have made it through the ordeal safely.

“We could not go forward sometimes, but we could not go back, either. So we just stayed in the jungle when we heard the army nearby. So we had to stay in the jungle for a long time,” he said.

Awng Lawt village is located near the KIA’s 2nd Brigade in the Hukawng valley. The Myanmar military took the area in April with a combination of ground forces, artillery and air strikes. But fighting in the wider region lasted some two months, and aid groups estimated that about 50,000 people were displaced.