MYITKYINA, Kachin State – The Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) on Monday allowed government officials to evacuate 125 Kachin IDPs to Kamaing sub-township. The operation to rescue the IDPs, who had been trapped by fighting in their home village of Lai Nawng Hku (Man Wai), followed the evacuation of 22 people from the same village the previous day.
The villagers had previously been blocked from leaving the area by the Tatmadaw, which has recently stepped up attacks against the Kachin Independence Army.
U Khin Maung Myint, an Upper House lawmaker from Hpakant constituency, told The Irrawaddy that 125 villagers were on their way to Kamaing on Monday. Two families of five refused to leave their homes and opted to stay in the village to take care of their cattle.
The evacuees from Lai Nawng Hku will stay in temporary shelters in Kamaing before joining relatives there, he said.
On Sunday, a government relief team led by a municipal deputy director arranged transport for the initial 22 evacuees from Lai Nawng Khu, according to Daw Hla Kay Thi Mar, the director-general of the Kachin State Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
She told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that they were taking shelter at the Shwe Myintzu community hall in Inndawgyi Town and would be taken to meet relatives in Kamaing later on Monday.
Over 3,000 residents of various villages in Kamaing, Injangyang and Tanai townships have been trapped since April 11, when fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the KIA.
Since April 30, more than 1,000 Kachin youth have been staging a sit-in protest in downtown Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, demanding the evacuation of trapped IDPs. Last Monday, the protest drew over 5,000 people.
Permission for the evacuation operation was negotiated by Dr. Win Myat Aye, the Union social welfare, relief and resettlement minister, who arrived in Myitkyina on Saturday. The same day, he also met with the protesting youths and pledged to help the trapped IDPs.
Daw Hla Kay Thi Mar said officials would continue to provide the necessary support to the IDPs. She said the Union minister visited three IDP camps in Namti and another in Myitkyina and distributed food rations and money to disabled people, pregnant women and children.
Last Thursday, Kachin State Chief Minister U Khet Aung agreed to help the trapped villagers after meeting with protest leaders, religious leaders and representatives of the Kachin Peace Talk Creation Group, but urged the protesting youth to shut down their campaign.
The following day, however, Tatmadaw troops turned away an evacuation team comprising representatives of the state government, the PCG, youth protesters and religious leaders who were attempting to travel to Kamaing Township.
Leaflets distributed in April to IDPs by the Tatmadaw and signed by its Northern Command stated that the villagers of Lai Nawng Hku were not trapped, and claimed that the Tatmadaw had distributed food and household utensils to local residents. However, the Lai Nawng Hku villagers asked for help from the religious and protest leaders, saying they were trapped in the conflict zone and that the Tatmadaw had prevented them from leaving.
Zau Jat, a protester, told The Irrawaddy that the sit-in would continue until all the trapped villagers are freed. “But so far, we have heard that [only] the migrant workers are allowed to travel. We are not satisfied with only the migrants being allowed to travel. We want a peaceful relocation for the local residents of these villages, who do not have enough food.”
On April 20, a Myitkyina-based Red Cross team went to rescue villagers trapped in Awng Lawt in Tanai Township, but the more than 2,000 local residents were not allowed to travel. Meanwhile, more than 200 migrant workers who had come to work at the amber and gold mines in Tanai Township were cleared to leave.
However, now that the Union government has intervened in the situation, and following an order from the President’s Office on Sunday ordering the Kachin State government to form committees to oversee rescue work at different levels, U Khin Maung Myint said he is optimistic that other trapped villagers would eventually be freed.