Thousands of Kachin Villagers Trapped After Burma Army Raid

By Nyein Nyein 28 October 2013

One Kachin woman has died, one man was injured and eight villagers are being detained during ongoing Burma Army operations in southern Kachin State, according to Kachin relief workers.

They said more than 2,000 Kachin civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone in five villages in Mansi Township for the seventh consecutive day on Monday, while several thousands are trying to escape the area on foot.

Naw Din, director of Karuna Myanmar Social Service Relief Team, said a 48-year-old ethnic Kachin woman, who had been in ill health, died on Oct. 24 while she was hiding in a local church in Mung Ding Pa village.

According to the UN, some 1,700 civilians have sought refuge in the church after government troops raided Mung Ding Pa village on Oct. 22.

Four other villages in the township, Nam Phu, Kong Ja, Khon Yum and Nam Lim Pa, were also occupied by the Burma Army, relief workers said. Soldiers allegedly opened fire upon entering the villages, where there are also several internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

Naw Din said the occupying soldiers had detained the headman of Nam Phu village, named Hpau Nat Dut, along with two other villagers. Hpau Nat Dut was allegedly tortured while being detained. He and other villagers were released on Saturday.

Naw Din, whose organization supports IDP camps in Bhamo Township, said he and several Catholic priests visited the occupied villages over the weekend and brought back the injured village headman and his wife. Naw Din added that eight villagers were still being detained by Burma Army soldiers in Mung Ding Pa village.

Lazing Aung, a manager of an IDP camp in Bhamo, said the headman had been injured because of beatings by soldiers, while he sustained a head injury because a weapon had been fired close to his head. “Hpau Nat Dut arrived to us on Sunday at 8 am, with injuries on his head, chest, back and shins,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that he was being treated in Bhamo Hospital.

Naw Din said that between 4,000 and 5,000 ethnic Kachin live in the five villages affected by the military operations. Many had fled into the surrounding jungles; some 1,200 had escaped on foot to Bhamo town and the nearby village of Mai Hkaung, while about 1,700 remain holed up in the church Mung Ding Pa.

Naw Din said relief groups had been prevented from delivering aid to the cut-off families in Mansi Township this past weekend, but would be allowed to bring in supplies to the occupied village of Nam Lin Pa on Tuesday.

“We will bring rice, oil, salt, blankets and some cooking utensils for some 1,800 to 2,000 IDPs in Nam Lin Pa,” he said, adding that his organization Karuna Myanmar would also supply aid to about 700 IDPs sheltering in Mai Hkaung village.

“But our support will not reach the people who fled to the jungle,” Naw Din said, adding that government troops were warning the occupied villagers not to try to leave the area.

“We managed to talk to few villagers and some young students, who revealed that they are being threatened; if someone leaves or enters the village, they will be shot,” he said.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam said in a statement on Friday that he was “seriously concerned” about Mansi Township’s civilians “being caught in any cross-fire, especially children and the elderly.” He urged an end to military operations so that aid deliveries could begin.

The UN has requested the Burma Army to open up the area for aid deliveries and was waiting for a reply, UN spokesman Aye Win said on Monday.

“We, as well as the on-the-ground relief groups, are trying to provide support to those people,” he said, “But we are still waiting for permission. As soon as we are allowed in, we will go.”

It remains unclear what has prompted Burma Army units to enter Mansi Township early last week. State-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar has reported that the army was carrying out operations against illegal timber loggers in the area.

The township is under a degree of control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is involved in occasional skirmishes with government troops.

Some clashes have been reported between KIA brigade No. 3 and government forces in Mansi Township, but local villagers said it appears that KIA rebels had decided not to confront the Burma Army because of ongoing ceasefire talks with Naypyidaw. Villagers said there were no KIA bases in the villages.

The unrest in Mansi Township comes at a time when the Burmese government is keen to sign a ceasefire with the KIA and hold a nationwide ceasefire conference with all rebel groups. This week, all major rebel groups are meeting in Laiza to take a joint position on Naypyidaw’s proposal to hold a conference.