UK Parliament Speaker Calls for Blocks on Humanitarian Aid to be Lifted

By Lawi Weng 11 October 2016

RANGOON — At a speech in Rangoon, Speaker of the British House of Commons Rt Hon John Bercow stressed that restrictions on humanitarian aid to conflict-affected communities in Kachin, northern Shan and Arakan state should be urgently lifted.

At the Park Royal Hotel on Friday evening, in an event co-hosted by the Yangon School of Political Science, the UK parliamentary speaker congratulated the people of Burma for the successful staging of the 2015 election and the democratic gains so far, and acknowledged the positive efforts of the previous government, but stressed that much still needed to be done.

Before an audience of 500, he outlined priorities for Burma, including strengthening Parliament and other democratic institutions, delivering equitable growth, ending “all discrimination based on race and religion,” and resolving Burma’s half-century of civil war through “political dialogue” and a settlement that includes a substantial devolution of power to the local level.

He mentioned the UK’s “tragic decades of conflict in Northern Ireland,” resolved through political dialogue in a long-running peace process, and the devolution of power to Scotland and Wales, as positive examples for Burma in justly settling its own conflicts.

John Bercow also dwelt on his friendly relationship with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he has met both in London and in Naypyidaw over the past month, and described his experience visiting Karen refugee camps 12 years ago, where he heard stories of intense suffering from people caught up in Burma’s decades-long civil war.

He highlighted the “desperate situation” in active conflict areas, such as Kachin and northern Shan state, “where aid is not always reaching those who need it.”

John Bercow claimed that, alongside broader discussions of political reform, he had discussed rights abuses in these conflict zones with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw, including displacement, rape and arbitrary killing.

As many as 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin and northern Shan states since 2011, when a ceasefire broke down. Last week in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, several thousand people staged a protest demanding that the Burma Army halt its offensives in the state, which have included air and artillery strikes over the last month, alongside ground offences.

In recent months, humanitarian aid to displaced people’s camps in areas controlled by the KIA—including in remote areas along the China border—has faced blocks imposed by the Burma Army, according to sources close to United Nations agencies and a local civil society network based in Myitkyina.

UN agencies, including the World Food Program, raised these restrictions in meetings with the Kachin State government, where Burma Army representatives were present.

While permission to deliver aid to KIA-controlled areas was reportedly obtained from the Union government, the humanitarian agencies also had to seek the approval of the Kachin State government. Although this came through, the Burma Army’s Northern Command, based in Myitkyina, ultimately refused access.