Kachin State Chief Minister Says He’ll Try to Evacuate IDPs

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 4 May 2018

MYITKYINA, Kachin State — The Kachin State chief minister has agreed to seek the evacuation of more than 160 people trapped in Kachin State’s Lai Nawng Hku by clashes between the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Around 300 Kachin youths staged a sit-in protest in Myitkyina on April 30 calling on the government to rescue displaced people who have been trapped since early last month by fighting in a number of areas including Tanai, Waingmaw, Injangyang, and Hpakant’s Kamaing.

Another 1,000 local residents joined the sit-in in the town center on Thursday, demanding talks with the chief minister.

“We’ll go and bring those trapped in Lai Nawng Hku [to Myitkyina] today. We’ll go there together with the government. As Tatmadaw troops are deployed there, negotiations are required with the military. I heard that [the Kachin State government] is negotiating with [the Tatmadaw],” said Lamai Gum Ja of the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG).

The Tatmadaw has reportedly barred residents of conflict zones from leaving their villages. They have been trying to flee since the fighting broke out.

Religious leaders, PCG officials and demonstrators will join government officials led by the chief minister to bring those trapped in clashes to safety, Lamai Gum Ja said.

Displaced persons take shelter at a Catholic church in Tang Phre village in Myitkyina. / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy

Kachin State Chief Minister U Khet Aung met religious leaders, demonstrators, and leaders of the PCG at his office on Thursday evening. After four hours of talks, the chief minister agreed to try and arrange the evacuation of people trapped by fighting.

“But if the Tatmadaw says we can’t go there for security reasons, we can do nothing, as the Kachin State government alone can’t make the decision,” Lamai Gum Ja said.

Sut Seng Htoi, one of the lead demonstrators, said they would also negotiate with the state government to rescue other groups trapped by fighting.

The demonstrators slept on the streets on Thursday night, and returned to the Manaw grounds in Si Ta Pu ward on Friday morning. They would wait and see whether the chief minister’s trip to Lai Nawng Hku proceeded on Friday, Sut Seng Htoi said.

The protesters planned to suspend the sit-in if those trapped in Lai Nawng Hku were evacuated, and hoped to continue talks with the new government to rescue displaced persons in other townships.

Displaced persons take shelter at a Catholic church in Tang Phre village in Myitkyina. / Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy

The Tatmadaw’s Northern Command earlier distributed leaflets to local residents stating that it only attacked KIA outposts and urging local residents to stay put.

Fighting between the Tatmadaw and KIA has forced more than 100,000 locals from their homes since 2011.

Around 2,000 displaced persons from Awng Lawt village in Tanai Township have been trapped in forests since April 11 and around 500 residents of Injangyang Township are also trapped, according to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

More than 5,000 local residents took to the streets of Myitkyina on Monday calling for the government’s intervention to rescue displaced persons.

Kachin civil society organizations and religious leaders have been sending letters to the chief minister since the second week of April seeking the evacuation of displaced persons. The chief minister had been silent on the issue until Thursday.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.