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As the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the government sit down for talks this week, refugees living in displacement camps in northern Burma are hoping the two sides will address their concerns after two years of fighting.
During an interview with DVB on Tuesday, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s Deputy Commander-in-chief Guan Maw said the plight of Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) plight would be discussed as a separate issue during the latest round of talks.
After a 17-year ceasefire between the KIO and the government collapsed in 2011, more than 80,000 people have been displaced due to the fighting.
“The [IDPs] are hopeful that it’s going to be different this time but some are still sceptical – they see it is just yet another meeting,” said Mary Aung, an activist who works with the IDP camps, adding the two sides have discussed the issue in the past but have yet to hammer out any firm results.
Others said that an end to fighting would be welcome, but extensive damage to local villages needs to be addressed before they can return to their villages.
“Even if they say in the meeting we can go back home, we actually don’t have a home anymore to go back to – there is probably just a jungle where our villages stood,” said Roi Hseng, a teacher in one of the camps.
According to a report published by humanitarian organisation the Free Burma Rangers this week, IDP camps have been chronically underfunded and difficult to access as fighting continues between the military and KIA.
“Relief is far below the international humanitarian standard (which mandates that all persons should be provided with provisions such as a safe environment, adequate food and water, and acces to healthcare) due to ongoing attacks by the Burma Army, insufficient funding and limited access for aid organisations in the remote locations of the IDP camps,” reported FBR.
Rights groups have continually criticised the military for blocking the shipments of humanitarian aid to IDPs in Kachin state, while the government has fired back with accusations that rebel forces have consistently struck convoys driving on the roads and supply routes in the state.
While the latest rounds of talks have been heralded as historic due to the presence of the UN’s special envoy to Burma and promises of a political dialogue with the country’s armed ethnic groups, others remain doubtful that the military is acting entirely out of honest intentions.
“We really want to go back to our villages, but we still have doubts whether the government would really engage in the talks with genuine goodwill,” said Pastor Zao Nan in Pakahtaung IDP camp.
“We would like to urge them to bury the hatchet with the KIA, in consideration for the people, and to make things the best.”
While the government has continually pushed for a ceasefire with the Kachin, the KIO has refused to sign a new agreement with Naypyidaw until Burma’s ethnic groups are guaranteed greater political rights.