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Civilians in Myanmar conflict zones face worsening situation

Cardinal and bishops deplore ongoing fighting in Kachin, Shan and Karen regions

Civilians in Myanmar conflict zones face worsening situation

An ethnic Kachin woman living in a temporary shelter in Mangwingyi, Kachin State in September, 2012. (ucanews.com photo)

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has issued an urgent appeal to end sporadic fighting Kachin, Shan and Karen regions of Myanmar.

The cardinal released the statement after several conflicts escalated despite the 21st Century Panglong Conference which Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi initiated to try and end the country's long-running civil wars.

"Recent events have raised serious concerns that the Panglong conference might be a false dawn," Cardinal Bo said in a statement released on Oct. 17.

"War for peace? Just war? In Kachin State? War can never be just," he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi convened the 21st Century Panglong Conference in August bringing almost all ethnic armed groups, the military, government and political parties together to discuss an end to the fighting.

However, the military has since stepped up its offensives with air strikes in Kachin State soon after the conference, an act that could derail the peace process in a country that has seen raging civil wars for nearly 70 years.

The fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar military in Kachin and Shan states is considered the most severe of the country's four ongoing conflicts.

The KIA took up arms against the military in 2011 after a 17-year-long ceasefire in the Christian-majority region. Since then, more than 120,000 people have been forced into 167 Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps.


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Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi (second from right) at the 21st Century Panglong Conference held in Naypyidaw on Aug. 31. (ucanews.com photo)


In the wake of the intense fighting, food supplies for IDPs in Kachin are being restricted which has led to deteriorating food security.

"We have our children starving in IDP camps. This is not acceptable. Kindly allow humanitarian organizations to reach IDPs with food," Cardinal Bo said.

Three Kachin bishops have made their own appeal to the government and the military to resume the food supply.

"As the food [supply] is dangerously deteriorating, starvation and malnutrition may set in. Consequently, distress migration and human trafficking may follow," the bishops said in an appeal letter.

Bishops Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina and Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw in Kachin State and Bishop Philip Lasap Hawng signed the letter on Oct. 12.

Bishop Gam said that he was deeply concerned about food shortages in IDP camps especially those in the non-government controlled areas.

"We had high hopes for the Panglong conference to bring about peace but ongoing fighting in ethnic areas has prompted much concern," said Bishop Gam who is also the chairman of Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar.

The Catholic Church has been committed to bring humanitarian assistance to the people in IDP camps in Kachin and northern Shan states since renewed fighting struck in 2011.

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