Thousands have protested in Myanmar’s Kachin State to demand humanitarian access for civilians trapped between government forces and rebels, amid reports of the military blocking aid supplies, “which may amount to a war crime”.
More than 5,000 people have reportedly been driven out of their homes by fighting between Burmese forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar’s most powerful rebel armies.
The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, Yanghee Lee, said she received accounts of the army using aerial bombings, heavy weaponry and artillery in civilian areas near the Chinese border.
“Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives,” Lee told the media.
“Any willful impediment of relief supplies may amount to war crimes under international law,” Lee said. The South Korean academic said she had received reports that a food convoy organised by the Myanmar Red Cross had been prevented from entering the village of Man Wai in late April. More than 100 civilians have reportedly been trapped in the village for three weeks with little food, medicine and other basics.
“What we are seeing in Kachin State over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable and must stop immediately. Civilians must never be subjected to violence during the course of conflict. All parties must take all necessary measures to ensure their safety and security,” said Lee, who has already angered the National League for Democracy government of Aung San Suu Kyi for criticising abuse of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
Fighting broke out in the mountainous region bordering China in 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire broke down.
The International Rescue Committee’s regional director Sanna Johnson said it was the latest wave of violence in the “world’s longest-running civil war”.
The KIA and aid agencies have called it the most intense conflict since Kachin guerrillas started fighting the government for greater autonomy in the early 1960s.
This year’s refugee crisis does not include nearly 100,000 people sheltering in camps in northern Shan and Kachin states since 2011.
“There’s no other way to save them so we decided to protest,” said Zaw Jatt, a leader of the rally in the state capital, Myitkyina.
About 2,000 civilians have been trapped in a remote forest near the village of Aung Lawt without access to aid for more than a fortnight, NGOs say, adding that many are elderly, women and children.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said some civilians were unable to leave conflict zones and were taking shelter in churches or in people’s homes.
Kachin Independence Army cadets in Laiza. Picture credit: Wikimedia