Conflict Intensifies In Kachin, North Myanmar

According to the United Nations, there have been some 4,000 people leaving their homes since early April this year, as a long-simmering conflict intensifies between government troops and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The conflict has killed hundreds of people already and left more than 100,000 civilians displaced. The military was reportedly attacking the rebels with artillery and airstrikes. There is growing concern that some of these people are trapped in conflict areas close to the border with China. Humanitarian aid groups have urged government authorities to allow them access to a remote forest, where more than 2,000 civilians from the Christian ethnic community have been trapped without access to humanitarian aid for more than two weeks. According to human rights groups, however, restrictions on humanitarian aid to displaced Kachin people have been severely increased by the Myanmar government.

The US embassy in Yangon said in a Facebook post that it was “deeply concerned” about increased tension in the region, “we urge all parties to cease fighting. We call upon the government, including the military, to protect civilian populations and allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to those affected by the conflicts,” the post said. Mark Cutts, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said in an interview with the AFP news agency that “we have received reports from local organizations saying that there are still many civilians who remain trapped in conflict-affected areas…our biggest concern is for the safety of civilians – including pregnant women, the elderly, small children and people with disabilities…we must ensure that these people are protected.”

There are many voices that are criticising Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to end human rights violations and restricting access to aid in her country. The critics towards Myanmar’s military is based on strong claims accusing it of severe human rights violations against ethnic minority groups, including the Rohingya that is often referred as “ethnic cleansing.” It also seems that no political party nor parliament has done anything for the ethnic Kachin’s.

Since Myanmar’s independence from British colonial rule in 1948, its border remained unstable, hosting a diverse range of insurgencies, including drug-running operations and local militias. Parallel to the Rohingya crisis in western part of mainly Buddhist Myanmar, the country’s north side has experienced conflict involving other ethnic minorities, which is rarely reported about. Since 1961, the Kachin, who are mostly Christian, have fought for greater autonomy in this predominantly Buddhist country. According to census figures, most of them live in the country’s north and make up more than 6% of Christians in Myanmar, which represents the second largest religious group after Buddhism.

Myanmar government troops and Kachin Independence Army (KIO), a powerful ethnic armed group, have engaged in battles since 2011 when a 17-year old cease-fire agreement broke down. The conflict has killed hundreds of people and left more than 100,000 civilians displaced, who sought safety in Christian churches, Buddhist monasteries, or displaced person camps in the state. Today, half of the 18 townships in the region are reportedly under attack, where Myanmar authorities have sent some 2,000 infantry troops, helicopters and fighter aircraft. According to some rights groups, the army has increased its campaign whilst the global attention is on the Rohingya crisis, which resulted in some 700,000 displaced people fleeing to Bangladesh.

The government has promised to bring an end to the long-simmering conflict but renewed clashes have undermined peace initiatives. The conflict has also brought into question how much influence Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has over the military. Myanmar’s emerging societal progress and economic prosperity continue to be weakened by ongoing conflict and unrest, a peaceful solution for the country poses a significant challenge towards which the international community has an ever-deepening obligation to act.