A top United Nations official has urged the Burmese government to allow access to Kachin internally displaced persons (IDPs) in rebel-controlled areas of northernmost Burma.
Baroness Valerie Amos, the UN under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told a press conference in Rangoon on Friday that conditions for displaced civilians remain dire and there was no reason to restrict access.
“The UN has asked to government to allow travel to rebel controlled areas to support the refugees there,” she told The Irrawaddy. “Because we cannot travel to the area, the UN cannot support these people.”
“We have substantial experience working in insecure environments. We are working in other places where the security situation is much worse. We hope the government will give us permission to travel to these areas and provide the aid that is so desperately needed.”
On the final day of her four-day mission to Burma, Amos talked about her visit to a temporary camp in government-controlled territory and said that insecurity should not prevent UN aid reaching IDPs in areas controlled by the ethnic rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
She revealed that the UN still needs US $41 million from a total of $68 million to support more than 115,000 displaced people throughout Burma over the next nine months.
The UN has not been allowed to access people in KIA-controlled camps since July and estimates that some 39,000 are outside of central government territory, while relief groups put the number as high as 60,000.
Kachin relief groups monitoring more than 40 camps in rebel areas have highlighted how IDPs remain desperately in need of warm clothing and blankets now that the winter months have arrived. Recent clashes have caused even more civilians to flee from their homes, claim local sources.
Earlier this week, a KIA planted a bomb near Shaduzoot Village, Tanai Township, on the Tanai-Ledo road which disrupted a government convoy of around 30 trucks travelling from the Kachin State capital Myitkyina to Tanai Township.
Afterwards, Burma Army troops reportedly opened fire on nearby villages resulting in the death of a primary schoolboy and a 41-year-old man, as well as four people injured. Local sources claim that such incidents are common retribution when KIA explosions cut supply lines of food and ammunition to government battalions.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, local religious leader Sin Ram said that the four wounded civilians suffered injuries to their heads, legs and faces and were transferred to Myitkyina Hospital for treatment.
Local residents said that fighting in the area has continued for ten days and caused difficulties for the civilian population. Relief groups and local NGOs are planning to set up new IDP camps for people to take shelter if more fighting erupts in the area during the dry season.
“People are working under pressure during this harvesting season and they are worried about getting ready to flee,” added Sin Ram. “The children are not being sent to school due to a fear of sudden blasts or attacks. We are afraid and do not know what to do; whether to go to the IDP camps or just stay home.”
In November, severe fighting in Pha Khat Township displaced even more people and government troops also burnt down an empty IDP camps in northern Shan State later towards the end of the month.
Unconfirmed reports reached The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon of fierce fighting in the Panwa area of Kachin State close to the Chinese border.
The current 18-month-old conflict erupted after a 17-year ceasefire agreement broke down between the two adversaries in June last year. Aid agencies estimate that more than 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting to live in temporary camps by the border.
Although several rounds of peace talks have taken place since the resumption of hostilities, local peace brokers claim no political resolution appears to be in sight.
The Irrawaddy reporter Nan Thiri Lwin contributed to this article from Rangoon.