By Francis Wade
Teams from a number of UN bodies have begun distributing aid to refugees in the Kachin state town of Laiza, but despite orders from President Thein Sein to cease fighting, several clashes have broken out nearby as Burmese forces continue to push on Kachin rebel territory.
The order from the president came on Monday – domestic media reported that he had instructed commanders not to launch offensives against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), but only defend from attacks.
Mai Ja, from the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), told DVB from the town of Maijayang close to the Kachin state border with China that heavy fighting had continued nearby. “It’s happening about 13 kilometres from Maijayang where the Burmese frontline is,” she said. “We can hear it very loud, all day yesterday and most of today.”
Rumours have circulated since yesterday that planes had bombed KIA positions. Mai Ja said she heard a “very loud [explosion] different from the days before. After that, the aircraft turned back”. Three helicopters had also flown over Maijayang.
The government-formed National Human Rights Commission warned in a letter published in the state-run New Light of Myanmar today that thousands of children were suffering from a result of intense conflict in the region since June.
“The children appear to be suffering from psychological trauma and the adults seem to experience a sense of insecurity and diminished confidence,” the letter said. “From individual interviews, it was evident that almost all wanted to return to their own villages.”
Staff from UNICEF are among the UN teams currently in Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA where thousands of refugees have escaped to. Barbara Mansi, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Burma, told DVB yesterday that teams would distribute pillows, mats and blankets to support the refugees during the winter months.
Doi Di Seng, chairman of the Committee for the Assistance of Refugees, said that UN officials had toured a number of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in and around Laiza. “They came in 10 vehicles: seven trucks loaded with household materials and two vehicles carrying the officials,” he said.
Mansi said that negotiations would continue to allow it access to all of the estimated 40,000 Kachin refugees. Until this week, the UN had only been permitted to access the refugees in government-controlled territory, which are thought to number around 6,000.
More refugees are arriving “each day” to several locations along the China-Burma border, Mai Ja said. Up to 8,000 are also sheltering across the border from Maijayang in China, but last week Chinese officials met with representatives of the refugees and told them to return to Burma.
The situation in Maijayang however is far from stable, and Burmese forces appear to be steadily gaining ground on the town. Negotiations with the Chinese appear to have bought the majority of refugees more time, although a source who visited the area recently told DVB that there were unconfirmed reports the Chinese had forced a number of people sheltering in rural areas back across the border.
Additional reporting by Mahn Saimon.