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Locals in the Hpakant area of northern Burma who have been displaced by recent fighting between Burmese government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are unable to access relief due to a travel ban imposed by government forces.
Fierce fighting broke out in the Kachin State jade-mining town on 15 January, forcing residents from nearby villages of Aungbarlay, Kansee and Ngatpyawdaw to flee their homes.
Than Naing, a resident from Aungbarlay village, said there are estimated to be over 1,400 displaced locals taking shelter at a Buddhist monastery and a church in Kansee village. He told DVB that they were unable to reach Hpakant as the Burmese army had closed roads in the area.
“We have moved the residents from our village to the makeshift shelters at the monastery and the church in Kansee,” said Than Naing. “They are now unable to go anywhere else as the Burmese army’s 16th Infantry Division has shut down routes to the town.”
He said supporters and relief workers from Hpakant and nearby Lawng Hkang village were unable to reach the displaced villagers.
“Sympathisers from Lawng Hkang could not get to us as the army stopped them at a checkpoint along the way,” he said.
Hpun Hseng of local charity Uru Seng Maw, a member of the Kachin Baptist Convention group of religious and civil society groups, said a collective of civil society workers and local religious leaders had been turned back by the army.
“On 16 January, we tried to travel past the army checkpoints to the villages. There were religious leaders including Buddhist monks and church pastors, as well as civil society workers, in a convoy of about 160 trucks,” he told DVB.
“We thought we might be able to persuade the army to let us past because of our strength in numbers, but they pointed their guns at us, indicating that they would shoot us if we didn’t turn around.”
He said relief workers had tried negotiating with army commanders to allow them passage to the displaced villagers, but to no avail.
“Presumably the army are blocking access to the villages because they don’t want anyone to acknowledge the presence of Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] in the area. This is most likely due to a fear that it would give political advantage to opposition parties, and also make international headlines about local people who have been displaced by fighting.” said Hpun Hseng.
Burmese Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on Wednesday rejected media reports about IDPs being trapped in villages in the area, dismissing the reports as erroneous.