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A ten-truck UN convoy with humanitarian assistance for more than 5,000 people arrived in displacement camps behind rebel lines in Kachin state on Friday for the first time in more than a year.
Since a 17-year ceasefire broke down between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the government in 2011, Naypyidaw has consistently prevented the UN and international aid groups from accessing the population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living outside of government territory.
Following lengthy negotiations with the government, UN representatives in Rangoon said they aimed to send additional humanitarian aid to the more than 100,000 people who have been displaced during fighting that broke out in Kachin state two years ago.
“Now we have the agreement of all sides,” said UN spokesperson Aye Win, adding that a recent seven-point agreement signed by the KIO and Naypyidaw in late May likely helped push the government to allow international aid groups to enter rebel territory.
“It’s raining hard and these people are in dire need of assistance. We certainly hope that we will be able to continue the assistance.”
Relief workers on the ground said officials would be hosting workshops at camps in Majayang tonight and would begin distributing aid on Saturday.
According to the statistics published by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, approximately 60,000 IDPs are living in territory outside of the government’s control in Burma’s far north.
In the past two years, the population has largely had to rely on support provided by community-based organisations, which often lack the financial support and distributional capacity to address the needs of the tens of thousands of displaced residents.
“The cross-line convoy represents a positive step forward by the government to help all people in need across Kachin state. It is crucial for this convoy to be the first of many, and that regular and unimpeded access to all people displaced in Kachin state is sustained,” said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam in a report published by the agency on Friday.
While rights groups lauded the UN’s tenacity in pressing the government to allow aid groups access to the IDP camps behind KIO lines, analysts said it would take more than one convoy for Naypyidaw to prove they are willing to start abiding by basic humanitarian principles.
“The government has allowed the Burmese military to play games with humanitarian aid, that is the bottom line here,” said Phil Robertson, deputy-Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) during an interview with DVB.
“Now, the government needs to prove to the international community that they’re prepared to fully comply with the international human rights practice of [providing] assistance to all, wherever they happen to be, according to their needs and nothing else.”
Although the recent deal signed by the KIO and government-backed peace negotiators in May sought to reduce fighting between the two sides, the Kachin have refused to sign an official ceasefire with Naypyidaw until the country’s ethnic minorities are granted greater political autonomy.
During the talks chief peace negotiator Aung Min said President Thein Sein is planning on hosting a summit later this summer with all of the country’s armed groups to commence a political dialogue aimed at ending the myriad civil wars that have plagued Burma since independence.