Humanitarian Crisis Looming in Kachin State

Conflict has not stopped in Kachin State of northern Burma, and today the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) announced that a “humanitarian crisis” is “looming.” The military regime broke the ceasefire in early June, and since then guerilla warfare and small to large skirmishes have been spreading throughout the area. Ten townships in Kachin state and northern Shan State are now facing this renewed conflict. Despite the fact that they are vastly outnumbered, the Kachin Independence Army(KIA) has dealt some strong blows to the Burma Army, killing commanders and capturing soldiers and supplies. Nevertheless, the KIA headquarters and the town of Laiza are on high alert as strong rumors exist that the Burma Army might launch a full scale assault against Laiza in the next three days.

Already this conflict has forced over 16,000 people to flee their homes. Many people are afraid to return to their villages because of abuses by the Burma Army. As has happened in many other parts of Burma, civilians are being tortured, beaten, and raped by Burma soldiers. As seen in the video below, refugees have described soldiers as being “ordered to rape.”

KWAT said today in their press release:

Denied refuge in China, terrified villagers are sheltering in camps set up in areas under the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) liberated areas inside Burma. Those unable to come to the border have fled to towns deeper inside Kachin State.  

“Our Kachin refugees are trapped. They have no exit,” said KWAT spokesperson Shirley Seng. “Local Kachin networks and churches have been helping but it is not enough. International aid is urgently needed.” 

The KIA and the Burma Army have met for talks about a ceasefire, but no resolution has been found yet. The KIA are firm that they do not want another weak ceasefire, what they want is true political reconciliation in Burma. The KIA is part of an alliance of armed ethnic groups, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). The KIA and the UNFC have said they want immediate and genuine talks that involve all ethnic groups, democratic groups, and the military regime. Moreover, they want Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to lead this meeting of national reconciliation. The KIA further states the military regime must respect the rights of all ethnic groups, and work towards a positive ceasefire with all ethnic armed groups in the UNFC.

Of course what interests the military regime is not bringing true peace to the country, but just pausing conflict long enough so they continue their work with China to build hydropower dams in Kachin State. The biggest of the dams, the Myitsone dam, will cause irreparable damage, not just to Kachin state, but to the 60% of Burma that heavily relies on the Irrawaddy River for their livelihood. Despite ongoing deep concerns about the safety and stability of the project, China and the regime are trying to move ahead with the project. This is all continual evidence that the international community, including China, must act soon to demand genuine political reconciliation in Burma.

KIA troops prepare for offensive of Burmese troops in Waingmaw township, eastern Kachin State. Photo: Kachin News Group
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