First We Bombed Them, Then We Fed Them…

An alliance of democracy activists and civil society organizations in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region called for international diplomats to pressure the Burma government and its high ranking military generals to stop its offensives in the north of the country. The alliance of civil society, health and pro democracy groups released a media joint statement today demanding diplomatic pressures be put “on the Burma government and military top end military operations in northern Burma and allow unrestricted, unfettered humanitarian access to displaced persons.”

The alliance said it had “grave concern over the recent escalation of armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Kachin State, Burma that has resulted in the displacement of thousands of civilians, and urgently call on ASEAN to take immediate action to address the situation before it results in further loss of lives, displacement and human rights violations against one of the most vulnerable populations in the region.”

The joint statement explained the “Burmese military have used IDPs as human shields and mine sweepers, obstructing IDPs access to refuge and safe passage, conducted indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombing in civilian areas and IDP camps as well as looted and destroyed civilian property. Furthermore, on June 5 2018, The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has announced a plan to close camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in four states including Kachin state.”

The alliance pointed out that despite the government newspapers stories on aid delivery to displaced people the government also responded with violence to peaceful protests against the war in Kachin State. The alliance said in its media statement that “in response to these human rights violations committed against the Kachin civilians, peaceful protesters across Burma – led by a youth movement – have called for the Burma government to provide much needed humanitarian aid and safe passage for the IDPs, with many calling for an end to the ongoing war. The Burmese authorities have responded by violently cracking down on these peaceful protesters, while arresting and charging many of the organizers.”

Meanwhile the frontline humanitarian organization, Free Burma Rangers released a report documenting the the Burma Army’s firing “24 105mm artillery rounds, toward Lai Nawng Hku, where internally displaced people (IDPs) recently fled, and Grupgra.”

The Free Burma Rangers estimate over a four-day period (27 to 30 May) the Burma Army have been involved in at least 11 attacks in Kachin State.

The FBR report said the “two areas where fighting was concentrated from 27-30 May were nearby the Mytikyina – Tanai highway.”

The FBR pointed out that the “Burma Army seeks to push out KIA forces for economic and development ends that include the jade and gold trade. In Tanai Township, the Burma Army is fighting against KIA 14th Battalion near Aung Lawt Village, Zup Mai Village, Nawng Nyang Village and surrounding areas. Many of the residents have fled these villages.”

Fighting in Hpakant Township, which borders Tanai and Mogoung Townships, has concentrated south of Kamaing Town in Hpakant. The mountainous range south of Kamaing Town and west of Mogoung City has seen heavy action this last month. Lai Nawng Hku is situated 16 km southwest of Kamaing and many villagers have fled.”

Despite the FBR reports, peaceful demonstrations, human rights groups condemnation and the ASEAN regional alliance the government’s newspaper, The Global New Light of Myanmar ran a front page story deflected the outrage by detailing small amounts of aid distributed by the Ministry of Border Affairs to villagers in the conflict area.

The Global New Light of Myanmar story said “at the ceremony held at the village of Lawah in Phakant Township, local authorities handed over 54 bags of rice, cooking oil, beans and salt, enough provisions for at least one month, to the displaced people.”

David Baulk, the Myanmar Human Rights Specialist with Fortify Rights, in an interview with Karen News said. “We’ve [Fortify Rights] documented government-imposed restrictions on humanitarian aid groups in Kachin State for years. Authorities spend much more time denying aid groups access to displaced people than they do facilitating it. Delivering a paltry amount of rations to one displaced community does alter the fact that the government’s restrictions are designed to make life unlivable for displaced people in Kachin State, and elsewhere. If the government is serious about wanting to provide for the displaced they could start by giving humanitarian groups free and unfettered access to them.”

Mr Baulk demanded the government stops its media stories whitewashing the military’s war on ethnic civilians and start a genuine political dialogue.

“The Myanmar military could end its attacks on civilians, and invite all conflicting parties to the table to negotiate a political settlement to these wars. Until those things happen, the government will have to keep coming up with ways to look like they’re protecting people while doing the opposite.”

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