Thursday, August 17, 2017

Civilians in two Kutkai villages told to relocate

Civilians in two villages of northern Shan State’s Kutkai township have been given marching orders, with the Tatmadaw issuing a warning that they need to leave within two days, according to local civil society groups and residents.

Civilians displaced by fighting last month in northern Shan State line up in Muse town. Photo: AFPCivilians displaced by fighting last month in northern Shan State line up in Muse town. Photo: AFP

The notice was delivered by Battalion 45, without further explanation, to residents of Kaung Lain and Man Jal villages on December 18. Villagers have asked civil society groups to assist them with transport and accommodation as they leave their homes behind.

“The villagers got the order to move. They transferred their rice and other valuable things in the morning. Some have moved, some are waiting for transport,” said Zt Lum Nyoi, a spokesperson for the Kutkai All Christian Group and a member of the Joint Monitoring Committee for northern Shan State.

She added that a discussion about the impending displacement was held at the Kutkai administration office, in a meeting with heads of villages and religious leaders.

The two villages are situated around 7 miles (11.3 kilometres) from Kutkai town. The population of around 500, or about 100 households, is comprised of ethnic Kachin, Ta’ang and Shan villagers.

Clashes took place in the area on December 15.

Villagers feared that the fighting would gather pace, said Hprawmai Iz Awng, deputy director of the local civil society group Humanity Institute.

“I [am worried] for the children’s education. It is all going to be ruined because of the displacement,” he said. “There are lots of IDPs already – humanitarian access and immediate response are critical for the new IDPs.”

Pastor U Gun Mai, who is assisting the new IDPs, said there was a choice given at the meeting: “The military side said, ‘It’s also okay not to move,” so some have stayed in the villages but some are moving.”

The Myanmar Times made several unsuccessful attempts to contact the Kutkai township administrator yesterday, as well as the Tatmadaw spokesperson. U Zaw Htay, spokesperson for the President’s Office, declined to comment as he was in a meeting.

Local civil society groups have issued a statement voicing concern about the “immediate and urgent need” to address the humanitarian needs of newly displaced populations in northern Shan State.

The statement, issued by the Joint Strategy Team, noted that thousands have been displaced in the wake of November 20 attacks in Muse and Kutkai townships, as well as subsequent clashes around the town of Mong Koe earlier this month. Northern Shan State has been beset by fighting in the weeks since the November 20 assault by the Northern Alliance-Burma, a grouping of four ethnic armed groups.

Tatmadaw offensive over the weekend against the Gidon mountaintop post – a key strategic base outside Laiza, Kachin State, that had been held by the Kachin Independence Army until it fell to the military on December 17 – has caused further displacement.

The Joint Strategy Team added that the major concerns for IDPs and other civilians in the region are protection, safety and security. Sustained humanitarian access is critical for IDPs and civilians in the conflict-affected north, they said.

More than 100,000 people in Kachin and northern Shan state have been displaced to IDP camps since a 2011 ceasefire broke down between the military and the KIA.