Tatmadaw Detains 15 Kachin Aid Workers Near Laiza

By Lawi Weng 1 November 2018

The Myanmar Army detained 15 members of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in Nam San Yang village near the Chinese border on Oct. 24, the religious organization said on Thursday.

KBC chairman Rev. Samson told The Irrawaddy that the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) arrested the 15 while they were on their way back to Myitkyina for allegedly traveling in a conflict zone without authorization.

“It was a restricted area, and permission from the Tatmadaw is required for travel there. So they told us they arrested the members for traveling without permission,” he said.

The group comprised eight women and seven men. Two of the women are senior KBC members; one is a schoolteacher and the other is an aid worker at a refugee camp near the border.

Three people were freed after a few days, but Rev. Samson said he did not have many details about the three, including the exact date of their release or the circumstances under which they were allowed to leave.

The area where they were arrested is near Laiza, which is home to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Travel in the surrounding area is subject to heavy restrictions by the Tatmadaw.

According to Rev. Samson, the KBC is concerned about the Tatmadaw’s treatment of the other detainees, who are being held at an unknown location. They could face charges under Article 17 (a) of the Unlawful Association Act, he said.

“We only know they have been interrogated. They [the Tatmadaw] told us that they would release the group if they were found to be innocent,” Rev. Samson said.

The KBC has written to the Kachin State government requesting that the detainees be released, as they are all engaged in work helping Kachin refugees. The letters were sent via the Peace Creation Group (PCG).

PCG member Nshan San Awng said his organization had passed on two letters written by the KBC to the chief minister of Kachin State.

He said the letters informed the chief minister that the detainees were traveling solely for the purpose of aiding refugees and have no connection with the KIA. As members of a religious group, they should be free to travel in order to help refugees; therefore, the KBC requested that the Myanmar Army release them soon, Nshan San Awng told The Irrawaddy, describing the contents of the letters.

The KBC members were detained by soldiers from the Tatmadaw’s Brigade 101, he added.

The Kachin State chief minister’s office has yet to reply to the request. Nshan San Awng said it would likely take some time for a reply to arrive. If the need for a meeting with government officials arose, the PCG would be available to do so, he said.

“[The arrests] were unnecessary, as they are just ordinary people who work for a religious group. They should be released,” Nshan San Awng said.

The KIA is an ethnic armed organization based in Kachin State. It signed a ceasefire with the military regime in 1994, but the agreement collapsed in 2011. Since then, fighting between the KIA and the Myanmar Army has led more than 100,000 Kachin State residents to become internally displaced persons (IDPs). Some refugee camps have opened in government-controlled areas, but other camps built near the Chinese border are located in KIA control areas. The Myanmar Army does not allow aid from the UN or other international agencies to reach refugee camps in KIA-controlled zones. The KBC is the main provider of aid to refugees near the Chinese border.