Friday, August 18, 2017

Thousands of civilians forced to flee amid clashes in Tanai

Thousands of civilians have fled Tanai town in Kachin state as clashes intensified between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

IDPs from villages around amber and gold mining region arrive in Tanai township on June 11. Photo - Hkun Lat for The Myanmar TimesIDPs from villages around amber and gold mining region arrive in Tanai township on June 11. Photo - Hkun Lat for The Myanmar Times

A letter was airdropped on June 5 in Tania town urging the thousands of workers and villagers to leave the gold and amber mines in town by June 15.

Although the deadline in the letter was June 15, villagers rushed to leave the area as fighting already started.

Chan Yaein, a local villager from N’ Ga Ga village who evacuated to the church of Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in Tanai, said some villagers were trapped on the way to Tanai because of heavy fighting between Tatmadaw and KIA.

“My village, N’ Ga Ga is quite close to fighting area. Artillery attack started just after the dropping letter near village. We don’t want to run, but we cannot stay there anymore as there is no safety for me in that village,” said Chan Yaein.

He added they are not illegal workers as they live in N’ Ga Ga village for many years but the letter said the Tatmadaw will clear out the territory soon as mining business in Tanai township are not allowed officially by the government and such kind of business might harm the environment and the ecosystem of the region.

Moreover, the letter said anyone who would still be in the area after June 15, will be considered associates of the KIA. It added that the advance warning is meant to keep away the civilians so they would not become casualties in the upcoming clearance operations

“We run not because of the letter but because of the military attack,” Chan Yaein said.

A former Kachin lawmaker, Daw Dwe Bu went to the conflict zone to conduct three-day training, from June 6 to June 9, aimed at raising awareness on women participation in peace process. But she could not finish the training course because of escalated fighting.

“No one outside Tanai was aware the situation in Tanai. That’s why I posted on Facebook with photos so people would know, including government authorities. But till I came back to Myitkyina on June 9, I did not see any response from government for those war victims,” said Daw Dwe Bu.

Amid the fighting, some routes to Tanai town are closed. Villagers had to take the waterway by paying much more money to get to the town.

According to locals, thousands of people live in the conflict area are not only Kachin ethnic but also Burmese from Yangon, Rakhine, Ayeyarwaddy region, among others.

While some domestic migrant are leaving Tanai, local residents from ten villages are waiting in KBC church in Tanai to go back to their homes.

U Bran Shaung, from KBC in Tanai said 320 people came to KBC by June 12 and they are still stuck on the way under tight security check.

“Migrants just stay here for one day. They go back to their homes via Myitkyina and Mandalay. For local residents, we have to accommodate them as they have no where to stay if the local authorities asked us not to accept them,” said U Bran Shaung.

Although villagers are facing great difficulties, local authorities do not let them stay in church as they are afraid some of them might have connection with KIA.

“Who else will take care of them [villagers], if not us,” U Bran Shaung said.

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who went on recent overseas trip to Canada and Sweden, did not acknowledge the issue.

“I have not heard that yet,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi replied when asked about the June 5 letter during a meeting with Myanmar nationals at Toronto City Hall, Canada on June 9.

But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she will investigate the issue.

“I haven’t heard that they[villagers] are being forced to evacuate. I will investigate about it. If yes, we need to know who gave this instruction. And if it’s true, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is the main responsible body to tackle that matter,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Canada along with representatives of the armed groups, the government and the Tatmadaw to understand more about the federal democracy.

Although authorities were not allowed to stay in Tanai to help villagers because of security concern, U Win Htut Oo, deputy director of relief and resettlement department said they are staying in nearby Mokaung town to help local and domestic migrants to go back home.

“We are waiting here to give help for those running away from Tania. If they want to stay, we can arrange for them to stay in monastery and provide food and other things. If they want to go back home, we will arrange train for them. They don’t need to pay for that. But it does not mean we are forcing them to go back home,” said U Win Htut Oo.

On June 12, 12 villagers arrived from Tanai and more were supposed to arrive the next day, U Win Htut Oo said.

Since the National League for Democracy (NLD) took power in 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to achieve peace. She also wants 2017 to be recognized as “Peace Year.” But despite the second round of the 21st- Century Panglong held in May, the fightings could not be stopped.

The 21st-Century Panglong Conference was held already two times, however, 100 percent public satisfaction has not been won yet.

“The 70-year-old conflict could not be solved with holding two conferences,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.