Laukkai’s Displaced Continue to Trickle Back Home

By Nang Seng Nom 23 April 2015

RANGOON — Residents of Laukkai who fled clashes between the Burma Army and Kokang rebels in northern Shan State continued what has been a gradual return to the conflict-wracked region this week, even as uncertainty lingers over the stability of the broader Kokang Special Region.

Mee Mee, who has been helping those displaced by the fighting, told The Irrawaddy that the war victims were secure, with activists and volunteers helping them to piece their lives back together.

“There are only 200 victims who have returned from Lashio. There were over 40,000 victims hiding along the border and most of them have returned to Laukkai now. They are being accommodated at schools and with makeshift tents,” Mee Mee told The Irrawaddy from Laukkai.

Tens of thousands fled the town following clashes that first broke out on Feb. 9 between government troops and Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), led by Peng Jiasheng.

“We have sent back 243 victims from Lashio,” said Kyaw Ni Naing, a Lower House lawmaker from Laukkai, referring to northern Shan State’s largest city, located about 80 miles southwest of Laukkai.

“Those who were taking shelter at border checkpoint 125 have also come back. The town is alive again. [Recent] clashes have occurred at places far from the town, west of Laukkai. Harvesting has already begun at sugarcane plantations,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Kyaw Ni Naing said repairs had begun on buildings damaged by the fighting, and that food supplies would be provided to the returnees once a week. He added that President Thein Sein has been asked to establish a relief fund for the rehabilitation of Laukkai.

MNDAA spokesman Htun Myat Lin, however, offered a different version of the situation in northeast Burma.

“I hear victims were forced to go back. They were asked to go back amid clashes and were ordered to leave by a specific date,” he told The Irrawaddy.

From April 18-20, government troops again clashed with Kokang rebels, with Htun Myat Lin telling The Irrawaddy that about 20 Burma Army soldiers were killed and another 65-70 wounded. He claimed only two MNDAA soldiers were killed in the fighting.

The Burma Army said earlier this week that 126 of its soldiers had been killed since fighting first began, and that it had recovered the bodies of 74 Kokang rebels. Civilian casualties in the conflict remain unknown.