Kachin Clashes Leave IDPs out in the Cold

By Lawi Weng 21 November 2013

Ethnic Kachin civilians displaced by the latest outbreak of fighting between Burmese government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are in dire need of assistance, according to a local aid group.

The fighting, which began last Saturday when troops from the Burmese army’s Military Operation Command 21 seized control of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in KIA-controlled territory in Mansi Township, Bhamo District, has forced around 2,000 people to flee, the group said.

Of this number, only around half have made it to the village of Maw Win Gyi, where they are seeking shelter. The rest are still in the jungle somewhere between Maw Win Gyi and Nam Lim Pa, where the IDP camp was located.

Aid workers say that recent cold temperatures mean that there is a desperate need for warm clothing, food and shelter for the displaced civilians, particularly those still in the jungle

“It is very cold in that area now,” said Naw Din, director of the Karuna Myanmar Social Service Relief Team, which supports IDP camps in Bhamo. “Some who fled the fighting were only able to take the clothes on their backs. Some weren’t even wearing shoes when they arrived in the village.”

Even those who have reached Maw Win Gyi still suffer from a lack of adequate shelter, he added. Most have been housed in previously used temporary shelters.

But the greatest need, he said, is for food, which is now being supplied by local donors but could run out if aid doesn’t arrive from UN agencies.

“We’ve had some help from the UNHCR, but we haven’t received any food. We’ve told them that we really need food,” said Naw Din.

Meanwhile, minor clashes have continued in the area since last weekend, when government troops also briefly detained around 300 students and teachers at a school in Nam Lim Pa.

In an interview with the BBC Burmese Service, KIA spokesperson La Nan said that four students were arrested and forced to act as human shields.

“They forced the students to walk to the frontline so our troops wouldn’t attack them,” he said.

La Nan added that the Burmese army has sent more reinforcements to the area since the fighting started, raising the likelihood of further clashes.