UN Aid Convoy Reaches Kachin IDPs in Humanitarian Breakthrough

By Lawi Weng 14 June 2013

A United Nations-led aid convoy reached the village of Mai Ja Yang on Friday to deliver humanitarian assistance to Kachin refugees displaced by fighting in the northern state, according to UN officials, two weeks after a seven-point peace agreement was signed by the Burmese government and ethnic Kachin rebels.

It marked the first time in almost a year that UN humanitarian aid was able to reach internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area, which is controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). KIA forces have been fighting against government troops for more than two years, after a 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011.

The UN Information Center in Rangoon reported on Friday that the 10-truck relief convoy departed from Bhamo Township on Wednesday, arriving at Mai Ja Yang on Friday with life-saving supplies including food, household kits, and hygiene and sanitation supplies. The aid aims to reach about 5,100 IDPs at multiple camps along the route before it returns to Bhamo on Sunday.

“They [refugees] have many difficulties there,” Aye Win, the UN’s Rangoon spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy. “But we could not travel there to help them. It has been almost a year that they have not received aid.

“We have tried for a long time to travel there. For us, we needed permission from both sides—from the government and KIA—to travel there. Without help from them, we could not get there.”

Ashok Nigam, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, welcomed the breakthrough.

“The cross-line convoy represents a positive step forward by the government to help all people in need across Kachin State. It is crucial for this convoy to be the first of many, and that regular and unimpeded access to all people displaced in Kachin State is sustained.”

He described the successful aid delivery as “an encouraging sign of positive progress in Kachin State, following closely in the footsteps of recent peace talks held in Myitkyina [the Kachin State capital].”

The KIO and the Burmese government signed a peace accord in Myitkyina on May 30, in which the two sides agreed on seven points aimed at facilitating further political dialogue in the future.

Hla Maung Shwe, a peace broker from the government side who is from Myanmar Peace Center, said the President’s Office would grant permission to any humanitarian groups seeking to deliver aid to Kachin IDPs in the future. He added that previously, the government had been unable to provide security to convoys traveling in the area due to the fighting, which has since ceased.

“U Aung Min [the government’s chief peace negotiator] told me that he is working for aid groups. His office [the President’s Office] will give permission to any aid groups that want to donate to Kachin refugees,” Hla Maung Shwe said.

Burma’s military has been at war with Kachin rebels for decades, but both sides signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The conflict flared up again up in June 2011 after the longstanding ceasefire broke down. Fighting escalated in December last year until February, when clashes became less frequent.

On May 30, the government and the KIO both agreed to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and to “continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops,” according to two points from a translation of the agreement.

Since June 2011, the UN estimated that fighting between the KIA and the government has forced an estimated 100,000 people from their homes. Loss of life, and the destruction of homes, livelihoods and infrastructure have accompanied the armed conflict. About 60,000 of the people displaced are living in areas beyond the government’s control, according to the UN.

For the 60,000 IDPs in areas not controlled by the government, local groups have provided some aid, but UN assistance had been on hold since July 2012 because approval had not been granted by authorities.

Based on the situation that the UN and humanitarian partners observed almost a year ago, restrictions on humanitarian access have meant significant suffering for the people displaced in Kachin State. The UN has warned that the dire humanitarian conditions that are set to worsen with the onset of the monsoon season, which began in May.

“The humanitarian community is ready to assist all people affected by the conflict, and looks to the government and the Kachin Independence Organization for their continued support in guaranteeing regular safe and unimpeded passage for humanitarian assistance, including for those delivering it,” stated Nigam. “We will continue to deliver assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and operational independence.”