Ma Htu, 62, lost her 70-year-old husband when he was killed by crossfire during fighting between government troops and soldiers from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
As the fighting that broke out last June intensifies, she has relived the trauma of losing her husband every time she sees people in her village carrying weapons.
Ma Htu comes from Naung Phang village in the Kutkai township of northern Shan State. This is where she held the body of her husband as he died from multiple gunshots to the chest and stomach.
After his death, and suffering from minor injuries from the hail of bullets that struck their bamboo hut, Ma Htu fled to a makeshift refugee camp in the compound of the Catholic Church in Kutkai town.
There she joined the ranks of the more than 100,000 Kachin villagers displaced since fighting ended a 17-year ceasefire in June 2011, with many taking refuge across the border in China.
On Christmas Day last month, the government stepped up its offensive by employing jet fighters and helicopter gunships to target a KIA outpost near the group’s headquarters.
International calls to end the fighting and return to peace talks were swift in coming, but the fighting goes on.
I wonder sometimes whether both sides of the conflict have become accustomed or addicted to conflict, to such an extent that any hope of peace negotiations is slim.
The government and the KIA seem more interested in preserving their lucrative cross-border interests in China. While Kachin state is torn apart by violence, there is still money to be made on trading timber, minerals and even rich soil – all of which are being shipped across the border to China in unlicensed cars.
Recent negotiations between the government and the Kachin rebels have been little more than a sham, as leaders from both sides get rich while the body count continues to rise.
China benefits from the import of untaxed goods and profits from the weapons they sell. In contrast, the refugee population in the makeshift camps continues to swell as aid workers grow weary under the weight of suffering.
Any genuine peace negotiation must include representatives from the people, in whose name the defense of Kachin state is being carried out. The KIA leadership as well as the soldiers must have a genuine desire to return to their homes and families and end a war that has devastated their homeland.
Until all parties affected by the conflict – government soldiers, the KIA, and the innocent villagers caught in the crossfire – are brought to the table for peace negotiations, greed and bloodlust will continue to fuel the conflict.
Fr. Christopher Raj, director of Karuna Lashio Social Service in Lashio diocese, works with Kachin refugees in Shan state