As peace talks continue between the government and the Kachin Independence Army, villagers displaced by months of fighting say they are afraid to return home for fear of renewed hostilities. Church sources in Kachin state say that a lull in fighting that broke out in June last year and saw the displacement of tens of thousands of people, has raised hopes of a lasting peace, but that refugees still face dire circumstances. “My concerns are food for the refugees and [preparations for] their journey home,” said Father Luke Kha Li, parish priest of St Patrick’s Church in Manwingyi. He added that many still remain fearful of going back to their villages, though they need to prepare for planting this year’s crops. In Manwingyi, 482 refugees remain housed in the compound of St Patrick’s, while another 1,175 have taken refuge in private homes in the village, with support from Karuna Banmaw Social Service. “I don’t dare to go back home because we are afraid when we see government soldiers. I can’t say exactly how long we will stay [here],” said a refugee who identified herself only as Lucia. A group of refugees returned to their village recently to assess conditions and make recommendations about whether residents could return home. They reported that there was not livestock left in the village and that it was not advisable for refugees to go home yet, despite calls by the government’s negotiators that they should do so. Sources among the refugees say there are still many people living in makeshift tents in the jungle because they fear going home and can’t travel to Manwingyi or other areas in which refugees have gathered. Since fighting shattered a 17-year ceasefire agreement, an estimated 60,000 Kachin have fled their homes to seek refuge in Church buildings, private homes and makeshift camps in eastern Kachin state.
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