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Aid groups voice concern over Shan State refugee plight

Food in short supply as fresh fighting add to numbers in Myanmar fleeing ethnic conflict

Aid groups voice concern over Shan State refugee plight

Ethnic Palaung civilians arrive in Nam Phet Kar village in Kutkai township, in northern Shan State following fresh fighting between the military and Palaung rebels. ( Photo courtesy of the Ta'ang Women Organization )

The Catholic Church's social arm, Karuna Lashio, has voiced concern over a growing number of refugees in Shan State after an outbreak of fresh fighting forced hundreds of people from their homes.

Renewed hostilities between the military and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army rebels broke March 8, forced more than 800 people, mostly Palaung tribes people, to flee their homes.

They have joined an estimated 4,000 other refugees who have escaped the fighting in Shan State since early February, according to aid groups.

"We are still observing and assessing the situation in order to respond with humanitarian assistance," Eddie, project manager of Karuna Lashio, the Catholic Church's social arm said on March 14.

Lway Po Sayki, an executive committee member from the Ta'ang Women Organization, said they are providing rice and other food supplies but are struggling to get support from local contributors.

"Food is in urgent need as few organizations have offered support and the refugees may have to remain in shelters because several of their villages were burned down by the military," Lway Po Sayki told ucanews.com.

Buddhist monasteries have become temporary shelters for many of the refugees while others are being offered shelter by locals from villages not affected by the fighting, according to aid workers.

Sporadic clashes have also recently occurred or are continuing in other areas in Myanmar such as in Kachin, Rakhine states, which observers say threaten to undermine government efforts to bring years of conflict with ethnic minority groups to an end.

Peter Lama Naw Aung, a Catholic and Lower House MP from the Kachin State Democracy Party, says restoring peace will be vital for the new National League for Democracy (NLD) party-led government if it wants Myanmar to make further economic and political progress.

"The new government's first priority must be peace and there needs to be an all inclusive ceasefire agreement so that they can proceed with political dialogue to take the country forward," Lama Naw Aung, told ucanews.com in Naypyidaw.

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The Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD, which won a landslide victory against the country's military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in November's elections, has vowed to put peace efforts at the top of its agenda.

The ethnically divided country has suffered a litany of internal conflicts since gaining independence from Britain in 1948.

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