Hundreds of displaced villagers who fled their homes in Mansi amidst escalating violence in Kachin State late last week are now facing an extreme shortage of provisions and adequate accommodation, according to local relief workers.
Ja Nu of the Metta Development Foundation said some 900 internally displaced persons (IDP) from Mansi are housed in cramped conditions at a school in Namhkam, northern Shan State. The refugees have been provided temporary shelter, but remain uncertain as to their next move.
“The [IDP] are only allowed to stay at the school for just a few days – previously we tried to negotiate with local authorities to provide them shelter at a disused airfield in the town, but that hasn’t been successful,” Ja Nu said.
“We have now suggested that the IDP move to a vacant lot planned for a new boarding school, but we have not yet had a response.”
The IDP have received aid from several organisations including the Chinese government, Karuna Myanmar Foundation, Metta Development Foundation as well as the Kachin Baptist Church and local sympathisers. All, however, are still short of blankets, medicine and clean drinking water.
Fighting flared on Thursday, 10 April between troops of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese government in the Mansi area, after Burmese troops bolstered their presence in Kachin and northern Shan States, including KIA-controlled territory.
Mary Tawm, coordinator of Kachin aid group Wunpawng Ninghtoi, said that over 2,000 residents from 24 villages in Man Waing Gyi and Panhkam villages were forced to flee the fighting in last week – some towards Namhkam and others towards the China border.
According to Ja Nu, 200 IDP fled across the China border to the town of Ruili as the fighting escalated. Many, she says, are yet to return home, despite facing considerable pressure from Chinese authorities to do so. According to several IDP, the fear that Burmese army troops may still be holding positions surrounding their villages is strong enough to prevent them from returning home.
Hseng Wan, chairman of the Shan Nationalities Development Party in Namhkam, said that over 100 Shan IDP previously sheltering at a monastery in the town had been able to return to their villages on 13 and 14 of April after a break in the fighting. However, two of them, Hseng Wan says, have been forced to remain in a Chinese hospital, suffering from injuries sustained as the Burmese army allegedly shelled Panhkam and Nawngjun villages.
Reacting to the violence, The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of ethnic armed groups engaged in ceasefire talks with the government, has said the renewed offensive by the Burmese army against KIA rebels in northern Burma threatens efforts towards a nationwide ceasefire.
Nai Hongsa, New Mon State Party vice-chair and spokesperson for the UNFC said the army’s attack on the Kachin has significantly reduced trust between the government and armed groups.
“The offensive, carried out despite the ongoing effort for a nationwide ceasefire, has had a negative impact, but we will try as much as we can to salvage the dialogue,” Nai Hongsa said.
Pado Kwe Htoo Win, general-secretary of the Karen National Union agrees that efforts need to be redoubled, saying that the fighting is all the more reason to press ahead with ceasefire talks.
“We believe that reaching an agreement with the government is crucial to prevent fighting like this in the future,” he said.
Representatives of ethnic armed groups and the government held talks in Rangoon from 5 to 8 April, where they successfully penned the first draft of a single-text nationwide ceasefire agreement. They are scheduled meet again in May for further drafting.