UN Adviser Pledges Support to Kachin IDPs in Landmark Laiza Visit

By Saw Yan Naing 29 August 2013

In his first-ever visit to the Kachin rebel stronghold of Laiza, the UN special adviser on Burma told those displaced by war there that he would continue to support them, more than two years after a ceasefire between ethnic rebels and the government broke down, unleashing intermittent fighting that has displaced tens of thousands.

Vijay Nambiar made the assurance on a visit to two internally displaced persons (IDP) camps—at Jeyang and Woichyai, both of which are in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) near its headquarters, the border town of Laiza. About 60,000 IDPs have taken shelter in Laiza since a 17-year ceasefire collapsed in June 2011.

“Vijay Nambiar said that he would try his best to keep supporting the Kachin [IDPs]. He won’t leave them to suffer alone,” said Sang Aung, a peace broker for the KIO who accompanied Nambiar to Laiza.

“He [Nambiar] also asked the refugees whether they wanted to return home. The refugees told him that they all wanted to return home, but they dared not return at this moment because they feel unsafe,” Sang Aung added.

During his two-day trip to Kachin State, the UN envoy met with KIO officials at both the KIO’s liaison office in the state capital Myitkyina and at the rebels’ Laiza headquarters. The envoy arrived in Myitkyina on Tuesday and left from the capital on Thursday. He also met with the KIO’s technical team for peace negotiations during his time in Myitkyina.

According to Sang Aung, the UN envoy also said he was pleased that the KIO showed a willingness to engage in the peace process with the Burmese government.

Nambiar participated in a landmark meeting between KIO leaders and the government’s peace team in Myitkyina in late May, when the two parties signed a seven-point agreement in which both sides said they would “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and to “continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops.”

“He [Nambiar] came to observe the situation in the field. The refugees asked him to help in achieving peace in Kachin State. I think it [Nambiar’s visit] was a good move,” Sang Aung said.

He also said Nambiar would likely be invited to attend another meeting between KIO leaders and a Burmese government delegation led by Aung Min, a President’s Office minister who is the government’s chief peace negotiator, in Naypyidaw.

The next round of peace talks is likely to be held in September after the KIO’s technical team and their government counterparts agree on a date and venue for the meeting.

The armed conflict between government troops and the KIO’s militant wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has displaced about 100,000 Kachin civilians in both KIO-held regions and government-controlled territories.

KIO leaders and Union negotiators have met several times for peace talks since the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein took office, but the two sides have yet to re-establish a ceasefire agreement.

Nambiar’s visit came a week after his UN colleague Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN’s human rights envoy to Burma, was prevented from traveling to Laiza by the state and central governments. That denial, and similar problems faced by UN humanitarian aid convoys, drew a rebuke from Quintana last week.

“This pattern of denying access, not only to address humanitarian shortcomings but also serious human rights concerns, needs to change immediately,” he said on Aug. 21 during a press conference at the conclusion of his 11-day visit to Burma.

Only one UN aid convoy has managed to access KIO-controlled territory since July of last year, a situation that Quintana called “extremely concerning, particularly with regard to food security.”

Additional reporting by Irrawaddy reporter Andrew D. Kaspar.