Humanitarian groups jointly demand end to escalating conflict in Myanmar

Soldier in Kachin state. Taken March 31, 2012. (Credit: Allyson Neville-Morgan / Flickr)

Twenty-two humanitarian organizations in Myanmar released a joint statement Wednesday calling on the government military and armed ethnic groups to end the escalating conflict in Kachin and Shan states, protect civilians and allow the delivery of aid.

The nongovernmental organizations – including Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Plan, Christian Aid, Save the Children and others – called out the “use of heavy artillery” close to villages and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, which has forced residents to flee, but with nowhere to go. The number of civilian casualties, injuries and displacement is growing rapidly.

“In the absence of a political solution to the humanitarian crisis and any imminent prospect of an inclusive peace dialogue in Kachin and Northern Shan States,” the statement said, “the situation of those displaced communities is particularly alarming given the lack of safe locations, threats to their safety, increasing restrictions on their freedom of movement and their inability to access humanitarian aid.”

According to the latest update released today by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 98,000 people are displaced in Kachin and northern Shan states. That figure is “adding to the over 500,000 already in humanitarian need across Myanmar,” Chiara Trincia, communications officer for the International Rescue Committee, wrote to Humanosphere in an email.

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“Those in Kachin State tell me that the situation is now worse than at any point in the past few years,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said in a press release on Tuesday after her most recent visit. Lee was prohibited from traveling outside of the capital while in Kachin.

Amid “the world’s longest-running civil war,” Nobel laureate Aun San Suu Kyi identified national peace as her top priority when she took power less than a year ago as the country’s first civilian president in 54 years. But the conflicts have only intensified.

While the military has recently faced harsh international criticism for its severe crackdown down on Muslim Rohingya in the western Rakhine state, clashes between the military and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have also continued to ramp up in Kachin state since a 1994 cease-fire broke down in June 2011.

Recently, the KIA formed a Northern Alliance with three other armed ethnic groups to launch coordinated attacks on 10 government and military posts on Nov. 20. Since then, the government has retaliated with airstrikes, heavy artillery, mortar fire and ground forces. When about 4,000 people from Kachin tried to flee to China earlier this month, local reports said China denied them entry – some suspect under pressure from Myanmar.

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Suu Kyi’s government also restricted access to humanitarian aid shortly after taking office through a travel authorization process, which requires IDPs in areas under the control of armed groups to travel to government-controlled distribution points to receive aid.

“Humanitarian need is therefore deteriorating especially in the context of continuing conflict and inability to access humanitarian aid, which only makes a potential political and peace process further out of reach,” Trincia said.

Although the statement calls on the warring parties to immediately end the conflict and engage in peace dialogues, Trincia noted that the statement realistically aims to increase awareness so access and funding can increase and continue.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Tuesday a new contribution of $5 million to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to provide food assistance for 172,000 people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine.

“We would also call attention to the obligation by all parties to conflict in Myanmar to abide by international humanitarian law – intended to shield civilians from armed conflict – and human rights law, which will only advance the overall aim of a durable peace,” she wrote.

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Joanne Lu

Joanne Lu is a South Carolina-based writer and editor dedicated to global development, poverty alleviation and social justice. After a year in Rwanda, she now covers the Asia-Pacific and economics. Find her on Twitter @joannelu or email joanne@humanosphere.com.