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July 19, 2012

Post-Ceasefire, No Signs of Peace in Burma's Kachin

by Matt Saunders

KACHIN STATE, Burma — A year has passed since a cease-fire collapsed between ethnic Kachin forces and Burma's government troops and there are still there are no signs of peace. Tens of thousands people have fled as the Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO, fights for greater autonomy and control over their resources.
 
People who fled their homes for this temporary camp in Burma's Kachin state are bracing for the monsoon season, worrying about food shortages.
 
Despite an increase in foreign aid flowing into Burma's capital, Kachin groups say little assistance is reaching the conflict zone.

May Li Aung heads Wun Pawng Ninghto, an umbrella group of eight local aid agencies. "All of the international community and funding agencies want to help inside of Burma," she explained. "But this is non-government-controlled area and they are also afraid to come here."

Although some supplies have been allowed into KIO-controlled areas, that is not the case in refugee camps on the Chinese side of the border.

A recent Human Rights Watch report criticized China for a lack of assistance to the refugees in Yunnan and called on authorities to give aid workers access.

Mui Hpu Kaw cares for seven grandchildren, while her four sons fight for the Kachin Independence Army on the Burmese side of the border. She says the uncertain future is almost unbearable. "I only wait to hear the words, 'Let's go home, the fighting's stopped now'. Every time I see someone come to visit the camp, I'm hoping they will say we can go home now," she said.  "I pray that I won't die here.”

Many observers are skeptical of a resolution anytime soon.
 
Former activist Tun Kyaw Nyein, the son of former deputy Prime Minister U Kyaw Nyein, is now a member of the independent, pro-democracy Burma Strategy Group.  He says even Aung San Suu Kyi is treading carefully on the conflict. “I understand fully why she is careful in the way she brings up the topics and addresses the issues because there is also the risk of appearing to favor one side or the other when things are so precarious," he stated. "It is going to take some time and its going to take all parties including Aung San Su Kyi and U Thein Sein and the Kachin leaders to overcome this long-standing mistrust.”

In the meantime, the displaced Kachin population waits in these growing camps for a resolution to the conflict that drags on -- despite the dramatic changes happening in other parts of the country.