Around 1,000 ethnic Karen villagers have been cut off from help in Myanmar’s Kayin state by renewed fighting between government troops and rebel forces, with relief groups now unable to reach them with badly needed food, blankets, and medical supplies, sources say.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Karen National Union (KNU), the country’s oldest ethnic rebel army, resumed in southern Kayin state in early December despite a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) the ethnic army signed in 2015.
Clashes in the Kyauk Gyi township in the Nyaung Lay Bin district of the state’s Bago region have now driven nearly 1,000 residents from six villages in KNU-controlled areas into remote areas where they wait to return home, one local villager told RFA.
“Because the leaders of the two forces have not met for talks, the IDPs [internally displaced persons], are afraid to go home. It’s not safe for civilians to return,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“So far, there are anywhere from 850 to 1,000 IDPs coming from six villages who are taking shelter in the KNU No. 3 Division’s territory,” the source said.
Coming from Kyauk Gyi township’s Ktookhar, Khopu, Sawmilu, Khae Kawkhu, and Khaedu villages, the residents fled their homes beginning Jan. 5 and are now sheltering at a location 30 miles east of Kyauk Gyi town, where they are in desperate need of food, medicine, and other necessities, sources say.
Karen civil society groups wanting to deliver aid have meanwhile been blocked from travel by unsafe conditions in the area, members of relief groups say.
“We can’t go there until the leaders of the opposing forces meet for talks,” Saw SipI Tel from the Karen Social Group said, adding that Myanmar’s government would then be able to control their troops, and the other side could do the same.
Saw Kyaw Lin Oo from the Karen Youth Network said that at latest count nearly 1,000 displaced villagers are sheltering in the area now cut off from help. “They need food, medical supplies, and other essential items such as blankets and warm clothes for the winter. They also need tarpaulins and rain tarps for making tents,” he said.
Supplies on hand, but undeliverable
On Jan. 20, Naw Pwe Say—Karen ethnic affairs minister for the Bago region government—provided aid to the Karen Social Group at the KNU liaison office in Kyauk Gyi for delivery to the IDPs, but a KNU spokesman said that both forces must withdraw from the area of fighting before supplies can be safely delivered.
“Though we now have many commodities, it will take people to deliver them, so I think it’s best that both forces pull back. No troops should remain in the area,” said Saw Sae Wah, secretary of the KNU’s Kyauk Gyi township branch.
“There has been armed conflict here for many years, so they should now use politics to solve these problems,” he said. “Top leaders from both sides signed the NCA earlier, agreeing that they would resolve problems through negotiations. So they should meet for talks.”
“I can’t think of any other way to resolve this,” he said.
Efforts to contact Myanmar military spokesmen and Bago’s Karen ethnic affairs minister for comment on Friday were unsuccessful.
Over 170 social and civil society groups on Jan. 20 sent letters to Myanmar’s President Win Myint and the country’s state counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi appealing for help to end the armed conflict in Kayin state.
Reported by Saw Nyunt Thaung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Richard Finney.