Kachin Relief Hampered by Concern for Safety of Aid Convoys, Travel Prohibitions

By Nyein Nyein 24 April 2013

The United Nations and nongovernmental organizations are still unable to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced locals in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), despite the government having agreed to allow aid distribution to all those affected by the Kachin conflict.

It has been two months since the government agreed to deliver relief aid to areas controlled by both the government and the KIA, which is the military arm of the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), in northern Burma’s Kachin State.

“The aid to KIO/KIA-controlled areas is agreed in principle, but there is not full permission granted yet,” said Aye Win, the UN’s chief information officer for Burma, on Tuesday. He added that the UN was continuing to work closely with authorities in an attempt to ensure the safe passage of aid to the area.

Relief workers from KIA-controlled areas also said refugees there were in great need of support as the approaching rainy season is set to makes refugees’ lives more difficult, with shelter and other humanitarian aid in short supply.

Aid workers characterized the current state of aid delivery as “half-fold.”

Both aids workers from the Kachin rebels and NGOs said aid could only be delivered after further peace talks yielded tangible progress.

A third round of talks between the government’s peace negotiating team and the KIO is scheduled to take place this month but the exact date of the meeting, which will likely be held in Myitkyina, has yet to be announced.

Various logistical and security concerns, including the safe transport of aid, top the list of challenges faced by relief workers.

“Both sides must agree on our travel to any camps,” Aye Win said. “We now can only travel to the places where we are allowed to go.”

Two weeks ago, a UN convoy delivered aid to camps for the displaced in Wai Maw Township, a government-controlled area, but further excursions to KIA-controlled areas were prohibited by authorities.

“They [the UN convoy] contacted us from Bahmo Township to come to Par Ka Htaung camp, where 3,000 Kachin IDPs [internally displaces persons] are taking shelter, near Mai Ja Yang, on April 9,” said Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa, head of the Kachin IDP and Refugee Relief Committee (IRRC) in Laiza. “But they did not make it, because they had one foreigner [in the convoy] and obtained no permission to travel.”

He confirmed that safe transport was a major challenge for aid workers traveling within the affected areas.

Some 80,000 Kachin IDPs are living in Kachin-controlled areas and the chance to return to their homes has yet to present itself due to safety concerns, Doi Pi Sa said, adding that more government troops had deployed in those areas since fighting reignited in 2011.

The bolstered government presence stands in contrast to the situation in 1994, when the KIO and the former military junta were able to reach a cease-fire agreement that lasted 17 years, Doi Pi Sa explained.

“Returning home depends on the political situation,” he said. “Although fighting is muted in the area at the moment, there needs to be a condition guaranteeing the people their safe return.”

The Kachin aid leader said upcoming talks held the promise of potentially easing the conflict, but stressed that “meeting alone cannot bring stability and security for the refugees.”

The KIA and government troops fought heavily in December and January, but met for cease-fire talks in early February and again in March.

Meanwhile, the gunfire has not stopped in northern Shan State, where government troops have clashed with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) since March. Thousands of refugees are taking shelter in Tangyan Township, in eastern Burma’s Lashio district, after heavy fighting a week ago, the local Shan Human Rights Foundation claimed on Monday.

As conflict hampers aid delivery to those areas, the UN’s Aye Win said relief workers are also struggling to provide adequate aid to IDPs affected by communal strife between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State last year, and in central Burma’s Meikhtila Township, where anti-Muslim rioting in March displaced about 12,000 people.