UN in Talks with Govt over Kachin Conflict

By Patrick Boehler 17 May 2012

The intensified Burmese army offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has led to further casualties, even as Kachin and central government representatives talk to the United Nations about lessening the burden of war on the civilian population.

Four soldiers were killed and at least 10 injured in an hour-long firefight near Namhsan in northern Shan State’s Kyaukme District, according to a Kachin News Group report released on Wednesday that quoted a KIA source.

The report came a day after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Coordinator James Lynch met with Minister for Border Affairs Lt-GenThein Htay in Naypyidaw for “frank” discussions, state media reported.

The meeting comes as the UN agencies have been forced to halt shipments of aid supplies to refugees sheltering along Burma’s border with China due to fierce fighting around KIA-controlled areas.

“The government recently stopped UN convoys out of fear for the safety of our staff,” the UNHCR’s spokesperson in Asia, Kitty McKinsey, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We regret that right now we are not able to serve people who need our help and are trying to get access to camps for internally displaced people where no fighting is going on.”

The UNHCR had expanded its presence in Kachin State in February as the fighting continued. It now has offices in Myitykina and Bhamo.

On Tuesday, Zawng Hra, the chairman of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), published an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemning the Burmese Army offensive as “ethnic cleansing.”

“The Burmese Army is engaged in massive troop buildups and intensifying its offensive against the KIO,” he wrote.

“The time is now crucial for the UN to intervene before the conflict becomes even wider and more complex,” he added, urging the world body to send “observer teams or intermediary teams to the conflict war zones” as well as to the camps for internally displaced people.

On Monday, Mi-24 assault helicopters fired rockets on villages in KIA-controlled territory, causing damage to civilian property, KIA sources reported.

“There is fighting everywhere, almost every day. We are expecting a major offensive from the Burmese Army,” said another KIA source who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

During the weekend, two Burmese Army soldiers were killed and four injured in a clashes near the Myitsone confluence in Kachin State, where a controversial Chinese dam project was suspended last September.

Remaining Chinese staff were evacuated in late April due to intense fighting in the area, The Irrawaddy reported.

The dam project has not been canceled and is currently going through an evaluation by an independent commission by experts from the International Commission on Large Dams, Chinese state media reported on Wednesday.