Rally in Northern Myanmar Highlights IDPs Plight

By Htet Kaung Lin 5 September 2019

Yangon—Civil society organizations, activists and internally displaced persons (IDPs) gathered Thursday morning in a downtown garden in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, in a bid to attract public attention to the plight of IDPs.

The protest was held to raise awareness among city dwellers of the feelings and plight of residents in conflict zones, said Sut Seng Htoi of the Kachin Youth Network.

“Though we have barely seen clashes lately in Kachin State, clashes are ongoing in Shan State. Civilians should not be the victims of war. Though negotiations are being held, local people are still bearing the brunt [of the fighting]. We are asking all the armed organizations to stop fighting,” she said.

“You can’t achieve peace with arms. Recently, the armed struggle has become more like an insurgency,” she said, apparently referring to the targeting of civilians in the ongoing fighting between the Myanmar military and rebel groups in northern Shan State.

Protestors also demanded freedom of assembly, complaining of the government’s prosecution and imprisonment of anti-war demonstrators.

These demonstrators do not receive fair trials, Sut Seng Htoi said, referring to two Kachin youth activists sentenced on Sept. 2 to 15 days imprisonment by the Myitkyina Township Court for their role in organizing a street performance marking the eighth anniversary of the resumption of fighting in Kachin State.

Placards at the rally railed against the sentencing of the two Kachin demonstrators. Others read: “We hate war,” “We want judicial independence” and “Is democracy failing?”

“Without freedom of expression, our country is not a democracy and the government is not a democratic government, though it says it is,” Sut Seng Htoi said.

The protest was held with the permission of the authorities, but some officials came and complained about some of the placards, which were not presented when permission was sought, according to Nhkum La Nu, a demonstrator and member of the Kachin Youth Network.

“We feel that displaced people were robbed of their right to free expression when [the two Kachin youths] were imprisoned for a performance about the plight of displaced persons. We feel so because what the performance featured was the reality,” he said.

He also called on both sides to respect the rights of IDPs and the international norms regarding their treatment and their rights, adding that local civilians suffer the most from these clashes, not those fighting.

Around 300 people participated in the protest, which continued into Thursday evening.