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MYANMAR: War flares in Kachin State, say locals

BANGKOK, 1 July 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of citizens have fled recent fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State, the northernmost part of the country bordering China, raising concerns among community groups.

"They [the displaced] need food, shelter and medicine," La Nang, a spokesperson and joint secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, told IRIN from its headquarters in Laiza, a town neighbouring China. The KIO is a political group of ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar. "So far no international humanitarian agency has offered any help to them."

Since the fighting erupted in the second week of June after failed negotiations, KIO reports that more than 16,000 people have fled to Laiza, while more than 4,000 are hiding in the jungle to avoid Burmese soldiers.

Though they are not welcomed by the Chinese government, more than 10,000 people have also fled to China, according to the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT), a Chiang Mai-based agency advocating democratic change in Myanmar.

Even in areas where fighting has not erupted, people are fleeing, carrying as many belongings as they can, out of fear that the war will come to their area within days.

KIA and Burmese government forces fought for decades after the central government denied the region self-governance, until 1994 when both sides agreed a ceasefire.

The relationship grew tense when the central government pressured the KIA in 2010 to form a Border Guard Force along with other ethnic armed groups, or to disarm.

With the contribution of private donors, KIO, KWAT and a few local groups have been providing food and shelter items, "but it's not enough to feed and provide for them", said Mai Ja, a spokeswoman for KWAT. "The IDPs [internally displaced persons] are increasing day by day."

Disputed claims

In a meeting with the members of parliament of Yangon Region in late June, Lower House Speaker Thura Shwe Mann said the fighting between Myanmar forces and KIA had ended, and that the relationship between the government and KIA was back to the original state before the unrest that erupted in June after nearly two decades of quiet.

"It's not true," KWAT's Mai Ja said. "There is still fighting in some places and it's very dangerous for [the displaced] to go back to their homes."

KWAT announced in late June that at least 18 women and girls from age 15 to 50 were gang-raped in the war-zone by Burmese soldiers between 10 and 18 June. Four women were killed after being raped while another died from her injuries, KWAT said.

"In this kind of situation it is not safe to go back home," said Mai Ja. "They need to keep staying in the camps or wherever they are staying."

KIO said malaria, diarrhoea and flu were a concern and medicine was needed. Tarpaulin sheets are also in demand for makeshift shelters.

sk/nb/mw

Theme (s): Conflict, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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