Six graves have been found near an abandoned camp for internally displaced persons in Kachin State following a raid by government troops on a nearby village three months ago.
The graves were discovered near the Nam Lim Pa IDP camp in Mansi Township by an ethnic Kachin relief group. Local civilians say the dead were killed by government troops.
“We learned the dead included people who were mentally disabled and were not aware of the need to flee, like the others,” said Mary Tawm, head of the Wunpawng Ninghtoi relief NGO.
IDPs fled from Nam Lim Pa camp in October after clashes between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke out in nearby Mung Ding Pa village, south of the town of Bhamo. The government army moved four battalions into areas nearby, encouraging civilians in a number of villages and IDP camps to flee. Government troops withdrew from the Nam Lim Pa area on Dec. 28, but many IDPs are continuing to take shelter elsewhere, including at relief camps in Bhamo Township or at camps in rebel-controlled territory.
Nearly 2,000 people are now staying at three camps in KIA-controlled area and churches in Man Win Gyi, a government-controlled area. About 100 Kachin elders from Nam Lim Pa were unable to travel to these areas and remain near their abandoned camp.
“We went to meet the elders,” said Mary Tawm, adding that many of them were disabled or physically incapable of making a long journey.
She said the elders believed the six graves were the result of killings by government troops. She said a home in Nam Lim Pa was burned down by artillery shelling, while boarding homes for IDP children were destroyed by government troops.
In Mung Ding Pa, tensions remain high after government troops and the KIA exchanged gunfire on Jan. 6.
Naw Din, head of the Karuna Myanmar Social Services relief team in Bhamo, which helps support some 50,000 IDPs, said the situation was not yet safe enough for IDPs to return.
“There is no security for them in the villages,” he told The Irrawaddy. “The safe return of the IDPs is totally dependent on the peace talks. …There are concerns about landmines in the villages where the armed groups were deployed.”
IDPs are reportedly taking shelter in emergency tents despite the cold winter weather.
“It is not very bad in camps in the towns such as in Bhamo, Mansi and Moemauk in the government-controlled areas, where around 50,000 IDPs are taking shelters” said Naw Din. “But those IDPs camps along the Sino-Chinese borders, in the KIO-controlled areas, may need more help as this winter is colder than previous ones.”
Mary Tawm said her group was working to construct more latrines, bathing spaces and water tanks for IDPs, who currently lack sufficient access to these services due to overcrowding.
Basic items such as firewood, clothing, medicine and shelters are urgently needed, she said, as well as psychosocial support, education for students, and opportunities for income generation.
The government army and the KIA have been fighting since a ceasefire broke down in 2011. Both sides have met for peace talks this year and have pledged to de-escalate hostilities.