27 February 2020

Thousands call for aid access for villagers trapped by fighting in Myanmar's Kachin

KONFRONTASI - Thousands of people have staged a massive rally in Myanmar's northern Kachin state to demand humanitarian access for villagers who have been caught in fighting between the army and an ethnic armed group in the war-torn region.

Organizers and participants said thousands of people took part in the march in the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina on Monday.

Pictures posted online of the march showed demonstrators in traditional dress holding signs reading "support food immediately to the refugees trapped by fighting."

The angry demonstrators also called the military to end its offensives in the area.

Zaw Jatt, one of the leaders of the rally, said, "There's no other way to save them so we decided to protest."

"The villagers trapped amid the conflict must be allowed safe passage to places of refugee and must be provided with timely humanitarian aid as soon as possible," activists who organized the protests wrote in a statement.

This comes as an ongoing fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar's most powerful ethnic militias, has displaced thousands of people across the area in recent months.

The ethnic minority militia has regularly clashed with government troops in the mountainous region bordering China and India since 2011, when a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down.

The United Nations has recently said that over 5,000 people have been displaced since fighting in the area escalated in early April. About 2,000 people have been trapped in a remote forest near the village of Aung Lawt without access to aid for more than two weeks. Many of them are elderly, women and children.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some civilians were unable to leave conflict-affected areas and were taking shelter in churches or with host families where they received initial aid from the government and aid groups.

The photo taken October 14, 2016, shows armed rebels belonging to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) ethnic group moving toward the frontline near Laiza in Kachin state, Myanmar. (Photo by AFP)

Aid workers have called it the most intense conflict since Kachin militia started fighting the government for greater autonomy in the early 1960s.

The fighting has put a spotlight on Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s stuttering efforts to bring peace to the diverse country that has seen near-perpetual war since its independence from Britain in 1949.

This comes as Myanmar is under intense pressure since the military launched yet another heavy-handed crackdown against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in western Rakhine state on August 25, 2017.

The state-sponsored campaign of violence against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine has forced about 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh since last August.[PTV]

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