They have fled the fighting once, and now there is nowhere else to run. Displaced people in relief camps around the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters at Laiza are caught in the middle of fighting between the army and Kachin troops, and have even been forced to dig bunkers in the camps to avoid the Tatmadaw’s artillery and airstrikes.
Ground attacks continued from January 5 to 9 near Laiza, La Ja Yan, La Wah Yan and Alin Bhawn, a week after Tatmadaw aircraft bombed one of the main Kachin Independence Army camps in eastern Kachin State in late December.
Sources in the area reported that the Tatmadaw had seized a number of KIA camps during the week and were using artillery to bombard the area around Laiza. A spokesperson for the KIO did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
U Than Htike Aung, a member of Karuna Charity Group, which recently visited six IDP camps in Kachin State, told The Myanmar Times that both sides needed to make protecting civilians their top priority.
“I visited six IDP camps: two camps near Laiza, two in Maijayang and Minedaing 6 and 8 in the past two weeks. I was shocked when I saw children living in bomb shelters in camps at Laiza,” he said.
“They told me it’s a matter of life and death. I felt very emotional when the [Tatmadaw] jets flew over my head and continued their airstrikes,” he said. The number of IDPs in camps in the Laiza area has increased to about 12,000, said Daw Khon Ja, who helps administer relief camps. Each camp in the area has more than 500 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, she said.
U Than Htike Aung said many Kachin people he encountered in KIO areas didn’t seem to understand the dynamics of the on-again off-again ceasefire negotiations. While they harboured some resentment towards Burmese people, their first reaction was to question why the fighting had lasted so long.
“A Kachin man in his 70s from Minedaing 6 asked me who President U Thein Sein stood for. Is he only for Myanmar people, or is he also concerned about ethnic minorities?” he said.
However, he warned that inter-racial tension will worsen if the conflict is not resolved through dialogue and negotiation.
“Peace can’t be achieved by force or fighting. If you get ‘peace’ through those means, it is not genuine and won’t be sustainable. While people in grassroots communities don’t understand the whole situation, they know this point, so why can’t educated people in positions of authority grasp the seriousness?” U Than Htike Aung said.
Another important milestone passed last week, in the form of Kachin State Day on January 10. Traditionally accompanied by the Manaw Festival, this year it was most noteworthy for a protest by almost 1500 Kachin people living in Yunnan Province. The Kachin, from Shwe Li, Ku Min, Man Shi and Yin Kyan areas, demonstrated at Nar Pin, on the opposite side of the border to Laiza, calling for an end to the conflict.
Marip Di Lar, who helped organise the protest, said it attracted more participants than expected because of the strong feelings the conflict had generated among Kachin people.
He said they protesters wanted to not only denounce the fighting but show their solidarity with Kachin on the Myanmar side of the border.
“We expected about 600 but in the end it was close to 1500,” he said, adding that the organisers did not seek permission from the Chinese government.
Demonstrators sung, prayed and held posters with messages for the people of Laiza such as, “You are not alone, we are all the same spirit. Please be strong.”
The demonstration was matched by a group who gathered on the Laiza side of the border who waved Kachin flags and held posters saying, “We all welcome and appreciated your support.”
“We plan to hold similar events until the war is ended to pray for all the victims of war,” Marip Di Lar said.
One Laiza resident said he had never seen solidarity like this before, adding that the conflict had politicised many Kachin in both Myanmar and China.