TANAI TOWNSHIP, Kachin State — With thousands of miners and their families in recent days having fled gold and amber mines in villages across Tanai Township to Tanai town, in northern Kachin State, the military has told leaders at the camps for the internally displaced (IDPs) that the temporary settlements should be moved to someplace other than the town itself.
The IDPs are currently living in makeshift camps set up at churches in the town, but military authorities have reportedly said that the crowding this has caused is untenable.
Reverend Dabang Jedi, leader of a Kachin Baptist Convention church in Tanai town, said Tuesday the military indicated that it wanted the IDP camps moved to Kaung Ra village, some 13 miles from Tanai town.
“There is no safety for these people if we move them to Kaung Ra village. Shells have dropped on this village. It’s impossible to move the camps to there,” he said.
However, the reverend said the military would not offer material support for the IDPs if and when they are moved to Kaung Ra village. Rather, the displaced would stay at monasteries in the village before being transferred to neighbouring Mogaung Township, where there is existing humanitarian infrastructure in place to assist the IDPs.
The new camps’ organisers said the military appeared reluctant to use the terminology “IDP camps” in describing the situation of those displaced to Tanai town in recent days.
“They [the military] want them to be called ‘temporary shelters’ for civilians. I don’t understand why they hesitate to call them IDP camps,” said Tu Ja, a senior official at Tanai’s Roman Catholic church.
Dabang Jedi pushed back against any effort to relocate IDPs in the town, saying, “We cannot close the camps in the current situation. We need to do more to support them.”
But a Tanai Township MP in the Kachin State legislature, Zaw Win, said there was no pressure to close the IDP camps, rejecting the notion that authorities had ordered that the displaced be moved from Tanai town to Kaung Ra village.
“I haven’t heard that the military is forcing the closure of the IDP camps,” he said.
Amid the confusion, inhabitants of the four makeshift camps set up in the town of Tanai are struggling with shortages of basic supplies.
“The township’s administrator supported with a bag of rice and an oil box for each camp. Beyond that, they haven’t given anything more to the camps yet,” said Tu Ja.
The displaced, many of them migrant workers, fled to Tanai town after the military on 5 June air-dropped letters warning them to clear out of the gold and amber mines by 15 June. The order is believed to be related to recent conflict in the area between the military and the Kachin Independence Army.
“There are no people in our village. All villagers abandoned their homes and riches. The military should give us three months’ time [to leave their villages]. Now, they have set a June 15 [deadline] but they won’t promise us that there is no fighting before 16 June,” said Naw Ring, a resident of Nam Phyu village in Tanai Township.
He added, “I want to return my village and want to take my riches. But I know that it is not possible to go there.”
In recent months, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has been supporting civilians displaced in Mogaung Township, but a similar humanitarian effort has not yet been extended to Tanai town due to the security situation, according to Ko Ko Naing, the ministry’s director-general.
He said ministry officials had not yet received actionable information on the latest displacement to Tanai town, but that the government would offer its support for those in need as soon as possible.