BANGKOK — The conflict in Kachin State is set to get worse after already displacing tens of thousands of civilians, many of whom rely on support from local aid groups desperately in need of international assistance, according to a leading advocacy group for refugees.
“Tensions between the government and KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] have reached boiling point,” said Lynn Yoshikawa of the US-based Refugees International (RI), who recently concluded a fact-finding trip to the war-torn state.
Yoshigawa, who said that the Burmese Army appears likely to attack the KIO’s headquarters in Laiza, near the Sino-Burmese border, estimated that around 30,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been caught in the crossfire.
“Most of the IDPs do not want to flee, and generally wait until the last minute to leave their homes,” she said.
While the Burmese government has relaxed restrictions on aid agencies and NGOs operating inside the country as part of its recent reforms, the World Food Program has so far only been granted access to government-controlled areas.
The KIO and local aid groups are the main source of assistance to Kachin refugees living outside government-held territory, and RI said that international aid should be provided via these Kachin organizations, given government restrictions on aid to conflict zones in the state.
Yoshigawa noted that despite being “pleasantly surprised” when Burma’s President Thein Sein suspended the controversial Chinese-backed Myitsone dam project in Kachin State in September, “the impact of the suspension has been diluted” by the ongoing Burmese Army offensive.
Fighting in Kachin State started on June 9, ending a 17-year-old ceasefire between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the KIO.
“There is a real sense of grievance among ordinary Kachin,” said Yoshikawa, “Many people are asking ‘why now?’”
RI recently conducted fact-finding visits to Kachin, Karen and Mon states to assess the impact of recent political reforms on relations between the Burmese government and ethnic minorities.Show