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Local charities filling Kachin aid void

With refugee numbers increasing in Burma’s war-torn Kachin state, a renowned Rangoon-based charity group says it will send relief supplies to the thousands displaced who are suffering an acute shortfall in aid.

Fighting that began in June last year and which has forced more than 50,000 people to flee their homes continues in the northern state. The Free Funeral Service Society (FFSS) says it has raised 30 million kyat ($US35,000) and clubbed together hundreds of donated blankets and clothes to send to the refugees.

“We have already shipped off the items to Bhamo from Mandalay and my wife is flying there [today],” said Kyaw Thu, the group’s director and veteran film star.

The FFSS, which built its reputation on the back of tireless fundraising for Burmese families too poor to bury their own dead, had already managed to raise 20 million kyat in November last year.

Their efforts, and those of local groups in Kachin state, have helped to fill the void left by scant UN and governmental aid reaching the tens of thousands displaced by some of the worst fighting Burma has seen in decades.

The National League for Democracy, which is preparing for by-elections in April, has also raised six million kyat for the relief effort, and a team is in Nan Ma Thee township, close to the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, to distribute supplies.

Until December the Burmese government had refused UN teams entry to areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), where the majority of refugees had fled. No official reason was given, although it is likely the government feared that channelling aid to rebel zones would be tantamount to support for the armed opposition.

The Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, who released a report on the refugee crisis last year, warned recently that those displaced were in dire need of more aid.

“The international community, including the UN, should recognise that one relief convoy to Laiza is not a sufficient solution to the humanitarian problems in Kachin state,” it wrote on DVB.

Despite orders from President Thein Sein in December for the army not to launch attacks on the KIA, reports surfaced last week that Burmese troops were amassing close to the group’s headquarters in Laiza. Heavy fighting had occurred last week, and is believed to be continuing.

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