Church fears end to humanitarian aid in Kachin State

Bishop issues warning after Myanmar military tells Kachin Baptist Convention to stop visiting rebel-controlled areas
Church fears end to humanitarian aid in Kachin State

People cover themselves with umbrellas as they take part in a peace march under the rain in Myitkyina in Kachin State on May 28. (Photo by Zau Ring Hpara/AFP)

Church aid workers are concerned that the Myanmar military's warning to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) to halt humanitarian work in rebel-controlled territory in Kachin State will cause other groups to stop providing help.

Hka Li, an official from the KBC's social and development apartment, said its members help everyone in dire need of humanitarian assistance regardless of whether they are in a government-controlled area or a non-government area.

"The latest warning by Myanmar's military is signaling not only to the KBC but also to other organizations to halt humanitarian work, especially in non-government areas," he told ucanews.com.

He said the warning would not deter the KBC and it would continue to help people no matter how much difficulty they are facing.

The KBC will send a letter to authorities about the issue.

The KBC has played a vital role in providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin and Shan states since 2011.

On May 21, Col. Thura Myo Tin, Kachin's security and border affairs minister, sent a letter warning that KBC members should stop going to IDP camps near the Chinese border or risk being charged under Article 17(1) of the Unlawful Association Act as the camps are in Kachin Independence Army (KIA) territory.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw, chairman of Karuna Myanmar, the Catholic Church's social arm, said the motive behind the move remained unknown.

"We are closely monitoring our ground situation and we need to be careful in carrying out our humanitarian work," Bishop Gam told ucanews.com.

The bishop said Karuna Myanmar as a church organization focuses on humanitarian work and deals with all stakeholders such as the government, military and KIA leaders.

He also visits KIA-controlled areas to meet IDPs and discuss humanitarian assistance with KIA leaders.

"We are not politicians and as church people we care for the people, but we don't know exactly how stakeholders observe our activities," Bishop Gam said.

Since 2011, Karuna Myanmar has provided spiritual support and humanitarian aid to people in camps.

Myanmar's military stepped up its offensive in Kachin in early April by launching attacks against the rebels using heavy artillery, helicopters and jet fighters.

The U.N. says that more than 7,400 people have recently been displaced by fighting in eight townships including Tanai, Ingyanyang and Hpakant. They have since been sheltering at both Catholic and Baptist churches.

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Renewed fighting erupted in 2011 following the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire and more than 120,000 people have fled to 179 IDP camps in Kachin and neighboring Shan.

Most of Kachin's 1.7 million people are Christians, with 116,000 Catholics.

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