The Irrawaddy

Main Kachin Aid Group Ordered to Halt Humanitarian Work in Rebel-Held Areas

KBC workers dispense medicine to Kachin IDPs from Injangyang Township who fled fighting in April.

The Myanmar Army has threatened to take legal action against members of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) if they continue to deliver humanitarian aid and meet IDPs in rebel-controlled areas near the Chinese border, according to local sources.

In a letter issued by the Myanmar Army-controlled Border Affairs Ministry on May 21, the KBC was warned that its members should not travel again to areas held by the Kachin Independence Army after KBC workers made trips to the Myanmar-China border in early May.

“In such cases, we could take action,” said Col Thura Myo Tin, who wrote the letter in his capacity as security and border affairs minister, based in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.

“Therefore, none of you should go there anymore,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was seen by The Irrawaddy.

The Myanmar Army official said KBC members who ignored the warning would be charged with unlawful association under Article 17 (1), which stipulates prison terms of two to three years for violations of the law.

The KBC is the main Kachin group providing aid to IDPs in Kachin State.

According to the army, KBC members traveled to Border Points No. 6 and 8 in Waingmaw Township in early May, where they met IDPs and handed over food supplies.

Rev. Hkalam Samson, who is general secretary of the KBC, told The Irrawaddy that his organization has been working for seven years providing help to IDPs near the border.

“We help only IDPs, not the KIA. So, for our side, we do not believe we broke the law. We are people who help IDPs. And we will continue to help them the best that we can,” he said.

Rev. Samson said his group would not be intimidated by the threats from the army, noting that the KBC’s work was solely humanitarian.

As for the motive behind the letter, Rev. Samson said he believed “It was part of the military’s strategy.”

There are 150,000 ethnic Kachin IDPs who have been forced to flee their homes because of fighting that erupted between the KIA and Myanmar Army after a ceasefire collapsed in the region in 2011. Those IDPs stay in both government and KIA-controlled areas.

With the arrival of the rainy season, many IDPs need shelter, healthcare and access to school, according to the KBC.

Following the threatening letter, Rev. Samson said his KBC members did not feel safe when traveling and this had disrupted their missions. His members even wondered whether their humanitarian work to help others in need was wrong.

However, members of the KBC would always be ready to help IDPs, he said.

The KBC cannot be constrained by borders as they were an organization that helps IDPs, he said. The KBC members have to travel where there were IDPs, even if they were in rebel-controlled areas.

Since the Myanmar Army issued the letter, some KBC aid convoys have been blocked, Rev. Samson said. But, the group would seek other ways to meet IDPs and deliver relief supplies.

Rev. Samson noted that even China had offered to provide 40 million kyats of supplies to Kachin IDPs early this month. As such, the KBC may be able to ask Chinese authorities for permission to cross the border from the Chinese side, Rev. Samson said.

The Myanmar Army has blocked UN agencies from delivering humanitarian aid to Kachin IDPs in KIA-controlled areas. The agencies were, however, allowed to travel and deliver humanitarian aid to IDPs in government-held areas.