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UN aid reaches Kachin rebel HQ

Thousands await first convoy for 18 months

UN aid reaches Kachin rebel HQ

Kachin IDPs at a camp near Lazia, Kachin State

John Zaw, Mandalay

September 9, 2013

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A UN convoy carrying aid to thousands of Kachin refugees in northern Myanmar arrived at the weekend, marking the first time in more than 18 months that the government has allowed outside assistance to reach camps around the town of Laiza.

More than 4,300 displaced Kachin are set to benefit for one month from the aid, which arrived at the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters at Laiza on Saturday. Assessments of the condition of internally displaced persons (IDPs) will also take place.

While the government’s decision to drop its guard on UN access to KIA areas has been lauded, activists warn that the situation along Myanmar’s border with China remains fragile.

“Whenever the UN reaches Kachin refugees, the international community thinks that all the refugees will get enough help,” said Khon Ja, coordinator of Kachin Peace Network.

“In reality, however, local NGOs are struggling to aid the people and even one-time aid from the UN over 18 months is not enough.

“The UN needs to push the government for continuous humanitarian aid for the Kachin refugees. Otherwise, they are just following the policy of the government.”

Naypyidaw has been reluctant to allow UN aid into KIA areas due to fear it would strengthen the Kachin army which remains locked in battle with government forces, despite several attempts at brokering a ceasefire.

Aye Win, information officer at the UN in Yangon, said the body had been using all means available to get access.

“We realize that one-time aid is not enough for all the refugees’ necessity but we will try as much as we can to get more aid to the people,” he told today.

The decision to allow the convoy to enter Laiza came after the UN special envoy, Vijay Nambiar, in August paid his first ever visit to rebel headquarters to lobby for access.

The relief convoy, which is carrying food, medicine, kitchen sets and mosquito nets, left the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina on September 7. Aid workers will carry out assessments of urgent needs and camp management trainings during a four-day period, according to a UN statement.

“We are pleased that this much-needed humanitarian assistance to the IDPs has been permitted,” said Ashok Nigam, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, in a statement on September 7.

“I hope that unhindered access to all the IDPs will be permitted by all sides under humanitarian principles.”

The number of refugees in Kachin and Shan state has reached more than 91,000 including over 53,000 in areas beyond the government control due to the conflict between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in June 2011, according to the UN.

Mary Tawn, co-founder of the Wunpawng Ninghtwe relief organization based in the Kachin state town of Mai Ja Yang, said the UN should try to seek alternate ways to effectively deliver humanitarian aid to the IDPs, including collaboration with local NGOs.

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