The predominantly Christian Kachin are fleeing violence
Seven years ago Burma’s military broke a 17-year ceasefire with the predominantly Christian Kachin people in northern Burma, unleashing a devastating new offensive in this decades-long war. Since April the conflict has escalated between the Kachin armed resistance group, known as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Burma’s army, forcing more than 7,000 civilians to flee their villages.
Global Kachin communities say that since 2011 more than 120,000 people have been displaced in what they call “an unprecedented humanitarian crisis”. There have been “abductions, deaths, and injuries by landmine explosion, torture and subsequent health problems, and mortar shells exploding on civilians’ houses.”
Along with the war, which – contrary to the KIA’s name – is fought over the Kachins’ demand for autonomy within a federal Burma, not separation, Burma has introduced repressive policies. According to May Sabe Phyu, an activist with the Kachin Peace Network, the government “is trying to block the Kachins from holding public events. All Kachin civil society leaders are closely watched and followed by the authorities.” Meanwhile, “internally displaced people (IDPs) are unable to return home, and their villages are now full of landmines. The government is now proposing to close down IDP camps, without taking responsibility for the IDPs’ basic needs.”
David Baulk, a Burma specialist at Fortify Rights, says that the camps are threatened by the rainy season, but the government is refusing access to aid groups. “It’s unconscionable. And right now, peacefully calling for an end to war can land you in prison.”
On Tuesday, Lord Alton of Liverpool asked the government what assessment it had made of the attacks on the Kachin, and other ethnic minorities; what representations they have made to the government of Burma; and whether they have considered referring the situation to the International Criminal Court.
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