Thursday, August 17, 2017

Displaced villagers and mine workers need food and clothes

A rescue committee formed to oversee displaced people in Tanai township said food and clothes are needed for people from mines and villages around the region who have fled the ongoing fighting between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army.

A civilian leaves the amber mining area in Tanai township with his belongings on June 16. Kaung Htet / The Myanmar TimesA civilian leaves the amber mining area in Tanai township with his belongings on June 16. Kaung Htet / The Myanmar Times

On June 3, government armed forces clashed with the KIA, capturing the latter’s outpost near N’gaga village, which is about 20 miles northwest of Tanai. Since then, residents have fled the village.

After a military helicopter dropped letters on June 5 warning the mine workers to leave the area by Thursday, thousands of workers and villagers fled the area, including from N’gaga and Namphyu, according to Namphyu villagers and other sources.

Rev Dabang Je Di, a member of the pan-denominational rescue committee, said the villagers have to wait for the end of fighting to return home. He said his church, the Kachin Baptist Convention’s Tanai branch, is hosting more than 500 villagers and workers.

“Since they did not have enough time to pack all the necessary things, they are in need of food, clothes, medicine and other basics,” he said.

His church has used its funding to feed the displaced people who are staying in a hall at the church that is used for church functions.

Other churches, such as Roman Catholic and Anglican, are also hosting displaced villagers. The total number of people sheltered by the churches is nearly 1000.

“We do not have many donors. We can still feed them for a few days,” he said.

Last week, the ruling NLD party donated 70 packages of rice to the church. Despite the authorities’ pressure to send the displaced people to Myitkyina, Rev. Je Di said the rescue committee decided not to do so.

He said the local authorities are afraid that the temporary shelter might become camps for Internally Displaced Persons.

“If the fighting does not stop and normality not restored, they have nowhere to go because their villages are in a conflict zone. This temporary shelter would become an IDP camp,” he said.

Reporters from The Myanmar Times and other news outlets visited the mines and worksites in the conflict zone.

Most of the worksites had been evacuated. In Namphyu – which is close to the KIA’s Battalion 14 Brigade 2 that is fighting government forces in the area – the whole village is empty, with the exception of a few residents who refused to leave.

Myit Awng, a businessman who is also the leader of the supervisory committee of Noi Je Bum mine, said yesterday he is still arranging to send some of his employees home.

“Some people at Noi Je Bum mine were forced to evacuate because the area is very dangerous and close to the fighting,” he said Sunday.

The supervisory committee is under the Kachin Independence Organisation, the political wing of the KIA that is in charge of administration in the area.

The fighting has not stopped yet. On Friday, a skirmish took place near Kaung Ra village in the morning. Local sources said a government patrol was ambushed by KIA fighters, and at least one government soldier was killed. The report could not be independently confirmed.

When reporters who visited the mines came back from Tanai on Saturday, KIA soldiers were collecting money from travelers near Dun Bun Kha village, stopping cars and motorcycles going to and from Myitkyina for about two hours.