Ongoing Offensives in Tanai Leave IDPs Trapped Between Warring Sides

By Lawi Weng 18 April 2018

About 2,000 Kachin internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain trapped in Tanai Township without sufficient food or water amid fighting between the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to local sources.

Kachin religious organizations and community leaders stated that IDPs were trapped in Awng Lawt village, where the Myanmar Army has engaged ground forces to target the KIA Brigade 2 headquarters.

Local organizations, churches and community leaders asked the army’s Regional Operations Command 2 based in Tanai town for permission to rescue the IDPs, but were told it did not have the authority to grant the request.

The groups also sent a letter on April 12 to the Kachin State chief minister asking for access to assist the IDPs but they have not yet received a response.

Some religious and community leaders attempted to rescue the IDPs and reported that they assisted about 1,200 people who are currently taking refuge in Shagribum village, a one-hour walk from Awng Lawt.

The leaders reported that about 60 percent of the 1,200 people were women, and some 30 percent were elderly. Some of the IDPs were wounded or sick. They did not have proper shelter. Those assisting them reported enough food to last the displaced persons for two weeks.

Fighting first spread to western Kachin’s Tanai Township last year after the military announced operations there to clear out gold and amber-mining sites in KIA-controlled areas.

Hundreds of villagers and thousands of itinerant miners and their families were forced flee Tanai in mid-2017 and again in February this year. Many were trapped between warring sides until they could be evacuated.

The Myanmar Army has again launched offensives targeting different KIA battalions in the area. Air forces were reportedly used beginning on April 11. Col Naw Bu, a KIA spokesperson, said that the airstrikes stopped, however, artillery strikes continue as well as ground force attacks, including near the KIA headquarters in Laiza.

Sig Npawp Yawhan, 54, was wounded in an airstrike on April 11 that killed his son, reported local organizations assisting the IDPs.

At least two civilians were killed by artillery strikes, one in Laiza and another in Awng Lawt village, according to the organizations, adding that at least four other civilians were injured in the most recent round of attacks.

While State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has asked ethnic armed groups to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), the Myanmar Army has continued to launch military offensives against the KIA, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and others.

Many ethnic armed groups have lost trust in the army and the government. They have urged the Myanmar Army to stop its offensives during the country’s ongoing peace process.

The military retains autonomy from civilian oversight and the attacks continue despite peace negotiations.

More than 100,000 Kachin remain displaced from their homes after a 17-year ceasefire between the central government and the KIA collapsed in 2011.

Peace talks have been held numerous times between the two armed groups. The Myanmar Army has repeatedly asked the KIA to withdraw from some of its bases in areas rich in amber, jade and gold mining, as well as in an area that will fall along China’s One Belt One Road initiative. The KIA has refused to withdraw, and cites ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Myanmar Army.