Government authorities in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state on Monday evacuated more than 130 of the region’s roughly 4,000 residents trapped in war zones amid fighting between an ethnic Kachin armed group and the national army, a local lawmaker and a state official said.
Win Zaw, a lawmaker from Mongnyin township, said the government and Myanmar military are transporting 133 internally displaced persons (IDPs) trapped by hostilities from their home village of Mangwe to the subtownship of Karmine in Hpakant township in Mohnyin district, where they will be housed in temporary shelters. They evacuated nearly two dozen others from the same village a day earlier.
“Authorities led by Mongnyin township’s administrator have taken the IDPs from Mangwe and they are on their way to Karmine,” said Thin Lwin, Kachin state’s minister of social affairs.
The state government also has donated more than 171.4 million kyats (U.S. $127,000) to assist more than 4,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from 1,000 households, he said.
Other individual donors and the Red Cross have donated basic humanitarian goods to the IDPs, Thin Lwin said.
The Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, a charitable foundation set up by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 and named for her mother, donated beans, iodized salt, and waterproof tarps to the IDPs on May 1.
Thousands of villagers have been driven from their homes this year by clashes in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of several ethnic militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace.
More than 3,000 residents of villages in Injangyang, Tanaing, and Hpakant townships have been stranded with little food since April after fresh clashes erupted between the national army and the KIA.
Government army soldiers have blocked access to roads in areas where fighting is taking place and have prevented residents from leaving to get supplies.
Protest camp in Myitkyina
In response, hundreds of people protested outside state government offices in Kachin’s capital Myitkyina on May 3, demanding that the government rescue the trapped civilians and vowing to open a protest camp at the site despite a heavy police presence nearby.
The same day, Kachin state chief minister Khet Aung met with protest leaders and agreed to help trapped IDPs, but urged the young demonstrators to end their sit-in. The next day, government army troops refused to permit the trapped civilians to be evacuated.
The demonstration followed a larger sit-in protest on April 30 in which around 5,000 people took part.
The protesters will remain at the protest camp in Myitkyina until Wednesday with the state government’s permission, and said they would shut the camp down once all IDPs have been freed.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has issued a statement saying that its troops will not stop individuals or organizations that pass through KIO-controlled territory to help the trapped IDPs.
The KIO also said it will help the displaced civilians as much as it can, but did not elaborate.
The KIO has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more having joined since then.
Police charge other activists
Protests were also held in Yangon and Mandalay on Sunday, calling for an end to the fighting in Kachin state and demanding that the government rescue trapped villagers, take them to safe areas, and provide them with humanitarian aid.
Police have charged activists in the two cities under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, which allows public demonstrations only if organizers first obtain permission from local authorities, though it does not specify a time period.
Those who violate the law are subject to three to six months in prison and a 30,000-kyat (U.S. $22) fine.
Police officer Myo Thet from the Kyauktada Township Police Station filed a complaint against Kaung Htet Kyaw, Zayya, Ye Aung Aye, and Myo Saw — members of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABSFU) and the Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS) — for organizing the protest, according to documents with the police station’s official seal, posted on social media.
The complaint says that protesters holding the flags of their respective organizations marched through Pabedan, Kyauktada, Latha, and Lanmadaw townships in Yangon, shouting and demanding that the government army stop its offensives in Kachin state, free trapped IDPs, and end the long-running civil war.
RFA called Kyauktada’s police station to find out more information about the charges against the activists, but the person who answered the phone said no one could answer questions because the officers were busy.
“We have not yet been officially informed of the charges, but many people know we have been charged,” said Kaung Htet Kyae from the ABSFU. “We saw the police station’s seal on the complaint against the four of us.”
“We think we don’t need permission to express what we feel and what we want,” he said.
By Kyaw Myo Min and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.