State Counselor Visits IDP Camps in Kachin State

By Nyein Nyein 28 March 2017

The plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was highlighted during the State Counselor’s visit to Myitkyina where she met with Kachin leaders and visited IDP camps.

During Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s official one-day visit, she met with Kachin public representatives, including religious leaders and civil society groups. She was accompanied by Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe, Border Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ye Aung, government peace negotiator Dr. Tin Myo Win and Kachin State Chief Minister Khet Aung.

“We were able to discuss current issues such as IDPs, the consequences of civil war, drug eradication programs and how to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Duwa Labang Gam Awng, the secretary of the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA).

More than 120,000 IDPs are currently taking shelter at temporary camps in Kachin and northern Shan states, following a breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army and the Burma Army in June 2011.

Following a three-hour meeting, the State Counselor visited IDP camps in Myitkyina and Waingmaw Township and gave donations to the residents.

The Maina IDP camp in Waingmaw Township has existed for six years, and currently more than 2,000 Kachin, Bamar and Shan people live there.

About 100 IDPs from Waingmaw Township traveled to Maina camp to share their concerns with the State Counselor, according to aid workers.

Mary Tawn, a local relief worker with the Kachin CSOs’ Joint Strategy Team (JST), said participants shared their recommendations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to which she responded that “she would do as much as she can within her capacity.”

The JST representatives discussed humanitarian aid, civic rights, a security guarantee for those who want to return home, and the right for IDPs to not undergo forced repatriation.

Aid workers raised concerns over continued Burma Army offensives, which directly affect IDPs, and the need for a designated budget to aid those who have been displaced.

Many Kachin shared mixed feelings of optimism and frustration following the State Counselor’s visit.

“I hope her visit benefits IDPs,” said Duwa Labang Gam Awng.

One aid worker said this visit was a long time coming, as these camps have existed for six years.

Mary Tawn said that for years, the IDPs have suffered a shortage of humanitarian aid, as well as the added burden of road blockages from military checkpoints and bans on aid transports since last year. She said the State Counselor (who won the Harvard Foundation’s 2016 Humanitarian of the Year Award) should give IDPs more than 30 minutes of her time.

The public shared their concerns with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi through selected invitees.

Ting Chang Mading, chairman of the Lachid Literature and Culture Association in Myitkyina who was not present at the meeting, said the public wanted to know the government’s plan for amending the 2008 Constitution, as per the NLD’s campaign promise. He said other concerns were the implementation of a peace process in the spirit of the 1947 Panglong Agreement and any plans between the government and army in regard to peace building.

“We reminded the State Counselor not to forget to implement the 1947 Panglong agreement signed by the late Gen Aung San and ethnic leaders,” Duwa Labang Gam Awng told The Irrawaddy.

“In order to achieve a genuine federal Union, everyone must participate,” he said. “I believe that if people from all political parties, ethnic armed organizations and the [Burma Army] participated, we would be able to successfully build a federal state,” he added.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the head of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), spoke of the importance of all-inclusion in the 21st Century Panglong Conference and the need for all armed groups to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

“All residents want peace and long for it, but we know it is the decision and choice of the armed groups to achieve it,” said Duwa Labang Gam Awng.