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After months of public silence, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has acknowledged, albeit somewhat obliquely, the deteriorating security environment in Kachin State, with the office of Burma’s de facto leader donating 300 million kyats ($222,000) in cash assistance to those displaced by conflict.
Suu Kyi turned over the donation to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in a ceremony on Thursday. She urged the ministry to independently decide how to spend the money and suggested that humanitarian aid coordinators put the focus on improving healthcare for the displaced locals, and providing education for children and occupational training for adults in temporary camps.
“My hope is that the displaced people will get the opportunity to learn something useful during their time in the camps, such as education for children and occupational training for adults. With good reason, no one wants to stay in displacement camps for a long period of time, and I would like them to be able to return home as soon as possible,” Suu Kyi said on Thursday.
“If women are given training for home-stay occupations, they will be able to use these skills when they go back to their villages to improve their lives. We must always find ways to improve the situation of displaced people and hope that peace and stability will prevail so that they don’t have to live in camps.”
She said the government would continue its efforts to achieve nationwide peace in order to end displacement of civil populations in conflict zones. In the meantime, the government would provide as much assistance as possible to displaced civilians, she added.
Thousands in Kachin State have been displaced in recent weeks as the Burma Army has ramped up an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army. The military escalation began in August, just weeks before Suu Kyi convened the 21st Century Panglong Conference, her government’s signature peace initiative to date.
The long-running conflict between the KIA and the Burma Army dates back to 2011, when a 17-year bilateral ceasefire broke down. In the years since, nearly 100,000 people have fled their homes across Kachin and northern Shan states as fighting between the two sides has flared repeatedly.
December brought waves of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) as Burma Army troops advanced on KIA positions, capturing several of the ethnic armed group’s outposts near its Laiza headquarters.
The situation has prompted civil society groups to call for an end to the hostilities and assistance to the conflict-affected population, but Suu Kyi had not directly addressed their plight until this week.
Even then, state media shied away from assigning blame for the displaced civilians’ recent hardship, with the Global New Light of Myanmar on Friday reporting only that the IDPs had been forced to flee their homes “due to security reasons in Kachin State.”