UN Aid Reaches Long-Isolated Kachin Town

By Nyein Nyein 18 February 2013

The UN said its relief workers arrived in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Sunday to begin addressing the needs of about 5,000 displaced Kachin civilians there. The displaced were cut off from aid until now because of fighting between the government and Kachin rebels.

“We are pleased that assistance to Hpakant went [Sunday] morning. Humanitarian assistance must flow uninterrupted as long as people are in need,” Ashok Nigam, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Burma, said in a statement.
The UN and international aid agencies will help 41 internally displaced people (IDP) camps in Hpakant Township, the UN said, adding that it was bringing food, tarpaulins, kitchen sets, blankets, mosquito nets, basic medical supplies and water purification materials.

Hpakant is under government control but the roads to the township—a regional center that is known for its lucrative jade mines—have been the target of frequent guerilla attacks by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Following ceasefire talks between the Kachin rebels and the governent on Feb. 4, it was agreed to let UN aid into IDP camps in both government and KIA-controlled areas. Government negotiators are due to meet the United Nationalities Federal Council—an alliance of Burma’s ethnic militias that includes the KIA—for further ceasefire talks on Wednesday.

Due to the Feb.4 talks international aid convoys can now safely reach Hpakant Township. The last aid shipment to Hpakant was a limited food delivery by the UN’s World Food Program in November.

UN National Information Officer Aye Win said the UN had held discussions with the government and the KIA since January to ensure safe passage of its aid delivery.

“Currently they are in Hpakant, we plan to go to other areas too,” he said by telephone on Monday. “But it depends on the security condition of the area and permission to travel,” he said.  “The security matter on the way remains important.”
A priest in Karmine, a small town near Hpakant, said international aid workers had visited an IDP shelter there on Monday and had provided assistance to the displaced. “They came and provided clothing, kitchen sets and tarpaulins in the morning and then returned to Hpakant,” said the priest, who preferred not to be named.

An inhabitant of Hpakant said that while aid was arriving in the township, the Burmese military had also begun consolidating its positions in the area. “Even though there are peace talks more troops have begun passing through our village,” said the man, who preferred not to be named.

The KIA and the government have been fighting since June 2011 and the war has displaced at least 80,000 villagers, according to the UN. Some Kachin aid groups put the number at more than 100,000 IDPs. More than half of the displaced are in KIA-controlled areas, such as Laiza and Majayang.

Aye Win said the UN would hold further discussions with the government and the KIA to see how international aid could be delivered to IDPs in these areas. “It’s too early to say when we are going into the camps in the other [KIA-controlled] areas,” he said.

In the past, the government has blocked international aid deliveries to KIA-held areas.

Laiza, a town on the Burma-China border where the KIA has its headquarters, is home to some 20,000 residents and another 15,000 IDPs.

Local Kachin relief groups have been caring for the displaced without international aid support for many months.
Aid workers said they had not been contacted by the UN yet and were waiting to get confirmation of aid deliveries. “We heard that the UN is coming,” said Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa, chairman of the IDP and Refugee Relief Committee (IRRC). “We are aware that KIO leaders are discussing about it.”

According to the IRRC, some 70,000 displaced Kachin are living in 40 IDP camps in KIA areas.