UN aid workers leave Burma conflict zone

Sept 4, 2009 (DVB), United Nations staff have been allowed to leave the Kokang region in northeastern Burma after being blocked by Burmese troops during recent fighting with an armed ethnic group.

Aid workers had been distributing food and helping locals in a poppy substitution programme in the town of Laogai in Shan state.

Heavy fighting broke out in the region between Burmese troops and a Kokang ceasefire group on 27 August, which caused some 37,000 civilians to flee to China.

Sources close to the UN's World Food Programme staff in Kokang region said that WFP staff in Laogai, along with aid workers from six other oganisations, had been prevented from leaving the region.

Authorities reportedly feared that they might leak news about the situation there and report human rights abuses committed by the military.

"When the fight started, all the roads and transportation routes in the region were blocked so they were trapped in a UN compound and couldn't travel into town for next two or three days until the fight was over," said a WFP source.

The blockade has reportedly been eased now and 22 WFP staff have been allowed to leave the region.

Other organizations with staff in Kokang include the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World Vision and Association of Medical Doctors of Asia.

The WFP has suspended its operations in the region following the outbreak of fighting.

Reporting by Nam Khan Kaew

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