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Burma’s Ministry of Immigration and Population has launched an advance census in remote parts of Kachin State in the country’s far north.
The controversial survey — which some have even requested postponing — will not begin until 30 March in most parts of the country.
Bo Myint, chief of Kachin State Immigration, said that they needed a head-start because many of the state’s highland areas are difficult to access. The process is already underway in Putao, Machanbaw, Nawngmun and Suprabum, he said.
Several indigenous groups in Kachin State have demanded changes to the survey itself, objecting to a coding system that assigns a number to each of the country’s 135 recognised ethnic groups. Last month more than 20 Kachin civil society organisations jointly demanded that the code be removed from the questionnaire.
Critics also say that it will be impossible to successfully acquire accurate data in Kachin because access is still hampered by conflict and poor transportation infrastructure. A further complication is the displacement of around 100,000 people since renewed combat broke out in 2011 between the Burmese Armed Forces and the Kachin Independence Army. Many villagers have since fled to China or are sheltering in other areas unlikely to be reached by enumerators.
“They are now beginning the census in Putao, but I don’t think they will manage to accurately count everyone,” explained Khon Ja, director of Kachin Peace Network. “Burma Army columns are still active in the region, and no one was assigned to count those living along the side of the road, or sheltering in the jungle.”
Burma’s 2014 census, which is set to begin in most parts of the country on 30 March and continue until 10 April, will be the first nationwide census since 1983, though statistics gleaned from the previous surveys are almost universally dismissed as inaccurate due to lack of independent supervision and obstacles to geographical access.