Looters Hit Refugee Homes

Displaced persons in Burma’s Kachin state say their homes were broken into while they fled to camps to avoid fierce battles between rebels and the military.

Looters have targeted the homes of thousands of refugees in northern Burma’s Kachin state who lack access to basic goods, medical care, and provisions after they fled fighting between government troops and rebels that had grown increasingly severe in recent months, a Kachin military official said Friday.

Some 7,000 refugees from the townships of Hpakant and Lonekin are currently living in camps near Hpakant where they say that they have enough rice to eat, but lack basic necessities such as clothing and other goods for daily use.

Colonel Zaw Twet of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is fighting for greater autonomy in Burma, said that government troops in control of the Kachin capital Myitkyina had recently refused to allow aid trucks from the United Nations to travel to camps outside the city to provide relief supplies to the refugees.

Without access to the U.N.-backed aid, he told RFA’s Burmese Service, many of the refugees had been forced to travel home, outside the safety of the camps, in the hopes of retrieving their own supplies.

But on returning to their villages, the refugees found that their homes had been entered and looted, and all their possessions taken.

“When the people from several villages got to their homes, they found that the doors had all been opened,” Zaw Twet said.

“Nothing was left in their homes. So now they are facing extreme difficulties.”

Tens of thousands of people have fled fighting between the KIA and the Burmese military since June 2011 when a 17-year cease-fire agreement was shattered.

Last week, after more than a month of particularly fierce fighting, officials from the Burmese government and the KIA met for talks brokered by Beijing and agreed to hold another round of talks by the third week of February with the aim of reaching a "strong cease-fire."

Shortly after last week’s talks, the U.N.’s special adviser on Burma Vijay Nambiar visited refugee camps in Kachin state that had previously been closed to international aid groups, pledging to work with the Burmese government to deliver aid to those displaced by the recent clashes.

Supplies in demand

On Friday, aid workers at a camp in Min Jayan—a town near the KIA headquarters of Laiza town—said thousands of refugees at the facility are facing serious health problems and are in need of urgent medical assistance and basic provisions.

They said the nearly 8,000 refugees at Min Jayan are suffering from a variety of ailments that, if left untreated, could become extremely dangerous.

“We have many people in the camp. They are mainly suffering from diarrhea, stomach problems, cold, and coughs,” a nurse providing assistance for refugees at the camp told RFA.

“We don't have enough medication for them.”

Another nurse told RFA that the camps were in dire need of U.N. aid.

“It has been 20 months now [since the cease-fire agreement was broken]. The U.N. representative first came to the camps March 27-28 [last year] and again in June,” the nurse said.

“He only came two times during the last 20 months and provided enough relief goods for two months,” she said.

“We were told that the U.N. would deliver relief goods after Feb. 4, but we haven't received anything yet.”

Dwe P Sa, chairman of Burma’s Refugee Committee, said that in the meantime his organization was experiencing difficulty obtaining supplies needed to sustain the camps.

“We are providing food for the refugees right now, but we don’t know that we will be able to continue to provide it for several months,” he said.

“Transportation in the region is not good.”

Ongoing conflict

Fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA has overshadowed Burma’s reforms over the past two years under President Thein Sein, who has promised work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule.

Thein Sein had ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels last year, and since he came to office, Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 armed ethnic groups.

Talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin last week were the first in more than three months. The Burmese military stepped up an offensive late December, capturing several strategic hilltop positions near the Kachin outpost of Laiza.

The two sides agreed to deescalate the fighting, open lines of communication, and have groups observing and monitoring the situation on the ground, according to a five-point joint statement issued after the meeting.

U.N. Special Rapporteur to Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana is currently visiting the country as part of a six-day mission to gather data on the conflicts in Kachin state and in western Burma’s Rakhine state, where nearly 200 people were killed in violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities last year.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Ye Htet for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.