KYETHI TOWNSHIP, Shan State — Nang Soi is one of several thousand civilians whose life has been uprooted by recent conflict between the Burma Army and Shan rebels in central Shan State.
The 48-year-old woman, who is currently taking shelter in the Wan Hsaw camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Kyethi Township, broke down in tears when telling the story of her husband who was shot and killed by government troops earlier this month.
Sai Zau, 52, was traveling back to his home in Mong Ark, Mong Hsu Township, where he intended to convince his son in law to join the rest of the family in the Wan Hsaw IDP camp.
He never made it, according to Nang Soi.
“He wore civilian clothes and walked back to the village. We heard he was shot,” she said.
“In our Shan culture, we make donations at the monastery when someone dies. But we can’t do it for him yet as we are in the IDP camp. No one can even go back to collect his dead body. I don’t know what to do next, I’m very sad.”
Nang Soi, a mother of six, received a further shock when two of her daughters failed to return after heading back to Mong Ark to cultivate paddy. She has since learned that they were forced to flee fighting that broke out near the rice field and took shelter in an IDP camp in Mong Nawng.
Many IDPs are farmers who led peaceful lives before fighting broke out in the area in early October and they were forced to abandon their fields and livelihoods. According to locals and aid groups, between 6,000 to 10,000 civilians from Mong Hsu, Kyethi and Mong Nawng townships have been forced from their homes.
“Our Shan people used to stay in big houses in nice places. This is our Shan style. But now we have to stay in refugee camps,” said Sai Lon Pan, a 50-year-old man from Tar San Pu village in Kyethi Township who is staying in Hai Pa IDP camp, which hosts more than 1,000 IDPs, including ethnic Shan, Lisu and Palaung (Ta’ang).
“We could not bring anything from our properties at home. The Burma Army is staying in our village. We don’t know when we can go back there. We don’t know what will happen next,” he said.
Most camps are in areas under the control of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and are being managed by local Buddhist monks and Shan community leaders. The latter have voiced concern over how long IDPs can be provided for without aid from the government or other donors.
A proposal seeking government assistance for displaced civilians in Shan State was put forward in Parliament on Monday. However, the proposition did not go to a vote, with deputy ministers from Defense and Home Affairs defending the government’s existing humanitarian response.
“For me, I feel this is an emergency issue,” said Sai Thiha Kyaw, a Lower House lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD). “We need to do it [provide aid] because IDPs do not have enough food. They only have some food from local donations.”
An ethnic Shan IDP from Nam Pa Mong village, who sold fast food in one of the Kyethi Township camps, stood outside her small shop to relate how Burma Army soldiers entered her village.
“They pointed guns at villagers if they saw anyone trying to come back to the village. Only monks were able to visit our village for a while,” the 45-year-old woman said.
“We have our domestic animals at home. We even have our own food. We are worried they will kill our animals or eat our food.”
The Irrawaddy visited different camps in Kyethi and Mong Hsu townships and most IDPs appeared to be women and children. Local aid groups have supplied food, but sanitation seemed to be an issue and many lacked warm clothes to guard against the cold.
A female nurse in Wan Hsaw IDP camp, which hosts about 1,200 IDPs, said there were 40 patients receiving daily treatment at the camp.
“Many of them are children. Three children have diarrhea and came to the clinic today [Nov. 25]. We are worried there will be more problems like this for other children,” she said.