Nippon Foundation Says Aid to Kachin Blocked

By Lawi Weng 14 March 2013

RANGOON—Influential Japanese charity the Nippon Foundation has said that Burma’s government has repeatedly prevented it from delivering aid to civilians affected by the Kachin conflict. On Wednesday the foundation called for permission to visit Kachin State.

At a press conference in Rangoon, Nippon Foundation project coordinator Takehiro Umemura said aid delivery plans for internally displaced ethnic Kachin were being delayed due to a lack of government access to the region.

“We wanted to get permission as soon as possible,” he said. “We officially asked permission from the government many times. But, the thing is there are peace talks between the government and KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] and we have to wait to send aid after their talks.”

An estimated 100,000 villagers have been displaced since a 17-year-old ceasefire between ethnic rebels and the government broke down in June 2011. Most stay in isolated rebel-held areas, such as Laiza town, which are hard to reach due to the unstable situation along access roads.

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross began to slowly gain access to the areas in late February. The operations were possible after rebels and government began ceasefire talks on Feb. 4.

Umemura said the Nippon Foundation also wanted to deliver aid to the areas. “As everyone knows the road from Myitkyina to Laiza has been blocked and the people have many difficulties for getting food. Blocked roads are a big difficulty for the transportation of food,” he said.

“The people really need aid, but we do not want to have problems with the government over sending this aid,” Umemura added.

After the introduction of political reforms under President Thein Sein international trade sanctions were lifted last year, prompting the Japanese government to reestablish economic ties with Burma and build up Japanese economic interests in the country. Japan also cancelled more than US $3 billion in foreign debt owed by Burma.

The Nippon Foundation has since taken an interest in resolving Burma’s ethnic tensions and has promised to donate US $3 million in emergency aid and to support education and health care development in rebel-controlled ethnic areas.

The influential organization has also sought to play an active role in promoting peace talks between the government and ethnic militias.

In the past few months it received government permission to deliver humanitarian aid in the form of rice donations in rebel areas of Mon and Karen states, and it has another aid delivery planned soon in Karenni State.

The Nippon Foundation is working with the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center. The center’s Hla Maung Shwe said, “We told them [the foundation] that they will get permission soon” to visit Kachin State.

The foundation’s chairman Yohei Sasakawa said on Wednesday that his organization was working with the Japanese government to channel a large amount of funds into aid programs in Burma.

“This financial year, our Japanese government planned to donate $300 million, which is intended to make Burma a developed country and want to promote living standards for the people,” said Sasakawa, who was named Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar in February.

“We have not made plans yet where this money will go and what it will be used for. But, as much as I understand, most of this money will go for development of ethnic areas,” he said, adding that Japan planned to promote peace and reconciliation between ethnic groups and Burma’s government in order to bring stability and development to the country.