WASHINGTON - Hundreds of villagers who are stranded in the jungle amid clashes between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels in Kachin State, northern Myanmar have not been heard from.
European Emergency Response Coordination Center reported in April that the group consisted of an estimated 2,000 villagers, part of an exodus of thousands who have fled their homes in Kachin because of renewed fighting between the Myanmar military and ethnic Kachin rebels near the border with China.
Ja Tang, an ethnic Kachin lawmaker in Myanmar’s Lower House of Parliament, told VOA Burmese that civilians from Awng Lawt village of Tanai Township have been out of contact with relief groups.
“I myself lost contact with them,” he said. “At first, they … were being trapped in paddy fields and after artillery shells landed near the fields, they had no choice but to escape. Now, they have lost contact for a couple of weeks. There were estimated 2,000 people when they last checked in.”
The lawmaker said the group includes children, pregnant women, the elderly and injured.
A major rebel group in Myanmar, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has frequently clashed with government troops following a collapse of a 17-year-old ceasefire in 2001. The latest fighting has escalated since early April and the United Nations reported that an estimated 5,000 people have been displaced and hundreds of them caught in conflict areas.
In northern Shan State, fresh clashes between two ethnic armed groups last week have displaced hundreds of residents.
In a tweet, Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has called “on all sides to ensure protection of all civilians.”
Very concerned about new displacement of thousands in #Kachin State due to increased fighting. The conflict in Kachin, #Myanmar is one of world’s longest running, yet it%27s a forgotten crisis. I call on all sides to ensure protection of all civilians, in line with #IHL https://t.co/U5apsKuyyr— Ursula Mueller (@UschiMuller) May 7, 2018
Myanmar’s military has reportedly detained scores of villagers for security reasons and has restricted access to the area.
Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Win Myat Aye, told VOA that dozens of villagers have been able to leave the conflict zone and that the government will continue efforts to evacuate remaining villagers.
The “evacuation plan has gone well after we facilitated talks between president’s office and the army,” he said, adding that “a total of 148 people were evacuated (as of Monday) including 40, who were able to walk out of the conflict zone with the help of Battalion 424 (of Myanmar Army) and later transferred with trucks.”
In northern Shan State, a local relief volunteer Sai Ba Nyan told VOA that more than 700 villagers are currently sheltering in three Buddhist monasteries in Namtu Township in northern Shan State following infighting between two allied groups -- the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA) last week.
Maj. Ta Eik Kyaw of TNLA told VOA that the two groups mistook each other as rival forces in the area where other armed groups, including government troops, are active.