Red Cross Aid Reaches Rebel Town of Laiza

By Zen Myat La Phai 27 February 2013

LAIZA, Kachin State—A team of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is visiting the Kachin rebel-held town of Laiza in order to deliver medical aid and inspect the needs of thousands of villagers displaced by the conflict in northern Burma.

On Tuesday, a nine-person ICRC team began a visit to northern Kachin State to inspect camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Laiza Hospital, said Bart Vermeiren, the deputy head of the ICRC in Burma.

“The aim of our trip is to provide medicine to the Laiza Hospital and to assess the situation here,” he said on Wednesday. Vermeiren said it was too early to outline any aid plans for the IDP camps in Laiza and surrounding areas. On Thursday the ICRC will travel to Bhamo to inspect the IDP situation there, he added.

Vermeiren said the ICRC planned at first to travel to Laiza via the Bhamo-Myitkyina road, but the road is still closed and they chose Bhamo-Loijal-Ma Ja Yang road on their second attempt for the trip. “How we can cross if the road is blocked?” he said.

The UN and international humanitarian aid agencies have been seeking access to IDP camps in Kachin State for many months, but during the recent fighting some access roads were blocked, while Burma’s government prevented aid from reaching IDP camps in rebel-held areas in northern Kachin State.

About 70,000 Kachin villagers are living in IDP camps in rebel areas, according to local aid groups, which have been struggling to take care of the civilians without international aid support. Another 30,000 IDPs have been living in camps in government-controlled areas, according to the UN.

Fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and Burma’s government quieted down following ceasefire talks in early February. Both sides have since promised to grant international aid groups access to the displaced in their respective areas of control.

In June 2011, a 17-year-old ceasefire in Kachin State broke down. Fighting escalated in December 2012 when the military began using heavy artillery and airstrikes to drive the rebels back and encircle their headquarters in Laiza. The small town on the Burma-China border is home to some 20,000 residents and 15,000 IDPs.