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Kachin refugees tell tragic tales

Two survivors talk about life as refugees

Kachin refugees tell tragic tales
Refugees at a camp
Mark Chit, Nankham

February 9, 2012

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A 17-year ceasefire was shattered last June when armed conflict broke out in Kachin State in the far north between Myanmar government troops and the Kachin Independence Army. It forced an estimated 60,000 Kachin civilians to flee their homes, seeking refuge in Church buildings, private homes and makeshift camps, traveling over borders into Thailand and China. Although the ceasefire has not yet been formally re-instated, the fighting has abated. The lull has enabled some of the displaced people to pause and take stock of the uniquely harrowing ordeals they endured in the last months. Here are the stories of two survivors. Brang Shaung, 14, is now in a refugee camp in Nongdon, China, under the care of Karuna Banmaw, a Catholic aid agency: “I heard gunfire when the government troops entered our village so my mother and I fled. My mother slipped and fell but she told me to keep on running. “I hid in the corn plantation. Then I heard the voice of my mother so I ran to her.  But I found my mother shot dead. “I relied on my mother alone as my father passed away when I was a child. But I have no parents now, so I have no idea how to survive in the future.” Paul Natel, a 43-year-old catechist, is in a camp in the town of Nankham in Myanmar’s northern highlands, looked after by another Catholic agency, Karuna Lashio Social Services. “After hiding for about two weeks in the jungle, four friends and I realized that we’d have to take refuge in the Church-run camp in Manwingyi, Banmaw diocese. “On the way, we used walkie-talkies to communicate. We would have been shot dead if the troops found us with two-way radios as they would presume we were connected with the rebel forces. But we had no choice; reaching the camp was our first priority. “It was about a five-hour walk to get to it. Going through the jungle, we had to carry some older people and children as they couldn’t walk.  And we had to stop one night and share our leftover food with each other. “No one could sleep that night as we were all filled with fright. The next morning, we left early and at sunrise we reached the camp at the St. Patrick’s church compound in Manwingyi, Banmaw diocese. “Then the parish priest from St. Patrick’s transferred us to this camp in Nankham, as so many refugees had already sought shelter in Manwingyi. “Karuna Lashio Social Services have about 500 refugees in two camps here, while the Baptists and the ethnic Pa-Laung association take care of another 500 refugees nearby. “Nothing is better than our own home. We can take refuge here for the time being, but our future is uncertain.”

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