Saturday, April 21, 2018

Nearly 2000 civilians trapped in Kachin fighting plead for aid
Villagers in Aung Lught are afraid to leave the jungle amid worries of being caught in the ongoing fighting between the armed ethnic Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Tatmadaw (military) forces, an officer of a women’s group in the area said on Thursday.
Sut Seng Htoi, programme manager of the Kachin Womens Union, said the villagers are scared to leave the jungle, where they sought refuge from the fighting, despite efforts by religious leaders and civil society groups to bring them to a safer place.  
Almost 2000 civilians in Aung Lught village of Tanai township have been trapped in the jungle since April 11, when fighting erupted between the KIA and the Tatmadaw.  
Half of the villagers stuck in the jungle are women (including pregnant women), children and elderly people, Sut Seng Htoi told The Myanmar Times.  
She said the evacuees lack food, shelter and medical assistance and urgently need aid.
“Although villagers have been told they can leave (the jungle) peacefully and safely if they want to go back to their homes, they don’t believe the Tatmadaw,” Sut Seng Htoi said. 
Her group is helping and providing aid to the villagers. 
“They fear they will be killed or arrested if they go back to their villages,” she added. 
The Tatmadaw announced on Wednesday in Tanai that villagers can return to their homes, as the KIA had been driven out of the area by the Tatmadaw. 
“As far as I know, the Tamadaw controls this village. They do not allow villagers to live in Tanai,” said U Lin Lin Oo, the Pyithu Hluttaw MP for Tanai. 
“The Tatmadaw will allow them to return to their village only if they have no connection with the KIA,” he added. 
Community leaders from Christian and womens organisations sent an open letter to the Kachin State minister on Tuesday and met with him later that day.
“Though living conditions in the jungle are appalling, they won’t come out,” said Daw Aung Ja, coordination team member of the Kachin State Womens Network.
She said the Kachin minister told them that “the government cannot just work with one side. It also needs to negotiate with the military.” 
The Tatmadaw’s Northern Command said on Wednesday that they will meet with the villagers and religious leaders, said Nbau Nang Pu, director of the Htoi Gender and Development Foundation.
“However the villagers are afraid of the military, so we could not go to see them. We need to discuss it first,” she said. “The main thing is to send them to a place that is safe and not a war zone.”
There have been persistent reports about villagers allegedly being killed by government troops on suspicion of supporting the KIA, fuelling villager fears that something bad will happen if they return to their homes. 
The Kachin Independence Army, like other armed ethnic groups, has been fighting on and off for decades against the central government for greater autonomy. 
Combat between the Kachin rebels and the military resumed in 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. The clashes have left hundreds of people dead and more than 100,000 civilians displaced. 
The UN has recently appealed to both the KIA  fighters and the government troops to keep the civilians away from harm as possible and minimize distruption on their daily lives.
 AP contributed to this report