Hundreds in Myanmar's Kachin State Call For Rescue of Civilians Trapped by Fighting

Around 300 people renewed protests in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, on Thursday to demand that the government rescue displaced civilians trapped in forests amid fighting between the Myanmar military and an ethnic armed group.

The protest followed a larger protest on Monday in which around 5,000 took part.

Gathering on Thursday outside state government offices, protesters vowed to open a protest camp at the site despite a heavy police presence nearby and said they were set to meet and speak this evening with Kachin state’s chief minister Khet Aung.

“[He] told us to come and meet him,” protest organizer Sut Swai Htwe told reporters at the rally site. “That’s why we, five Kachin youth leaders and religious leaders have been waiting to see him since this morning.”

“But we haven’t been able to meet him yet. We don’t understand why.”

“We are protesting peacefully so that those who are trapped can be freed, but it seems that the police might crack down on us. But even if they do, we will not respond” he said.

Offered a place for a protest camp at a remote site called Manaw Ground, a place far from the capital, protesters refused the location, saying they want to alert as many people as possible to the situation of the civilians driven into forests by the fighting, sources said.

More than 3,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have recently been driven from their homes by clashes in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

About 1,000 villagers in Injanyang township fled clashes that flared on April 24, heading to Tanphaye village on the outskirts of Myitkina where they are staying in nearby woods.

The latest fighting comes on the heels of battles in Kachin’s Tanaing and Hpakant townships that stranded 2,000 villagers with little food last week.

Cease-fire holdout

The KIA is one of several ethnic militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace in the country through a series of negotiations launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more having joined since then.

The Myanmar military has meanwhile accused the KIA of illegally using the region's natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, while the ethnic militia believes the government army has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control before the next round of nationwide peace negotiations.

On April 25, more than 30 Kachin civil society organizations urged the U.N. Security Council to refer the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court for what they say are human rights violations against civilians and the denial of humanitarian assistance to people in need in Kachin state.

Meanwhile, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee appealed for access to areas in Kachin state now cut off by government bombardments of civilian areas near the border with China, according to a Reuters report on May 1.

“Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives,” Lee said in a statement.

“Any willful impediment of relief supplies may amount to war crimes under international law,” Lee said.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.