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Myanmar aid groups struggle to reach displaced people

Renewed fighting between military and ethnic groups in Shan State sees more people flee to churches, monasteries

Myanmar aid groups struggle to reach displaced people

Myanmar soldiers walk along the Pyidaungsu highway road outside Kutkai in Shan State on Aug. 25. Fresh clashes between the military and ethnic rebel groups have seen thousands of residents displaced. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP) 

Thousands of displaced people taking refuge at monasteries and churches in Myanmar need food and proper shelter as aid groups struggle to provide humanitarian assistance due to continued fighting in Shan State.

As of Aug. 23, more than 5,000 people had been displaced and were staying in Buddhist monasteries and Catholic and Kachin Baptist churches.

About 2,000 people recently returned to their villages, according to aid groups, but more than 2,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in various townships, including 200 who were displaced on Aug. 25.

Hkawng Dau, spokesman of the Shan State Humanitarian Coordination Committee, said local donors are sending food and non-food items to displaced people staying at religious sites.

“The number of IDPs is changing on a daily basis as fighting is still raging in the region and roads are blocked, so some IDP sites still haven’t had any assistance,” Hkawng Dau told ucanews.com.

Eddie, project coordinator of Karuna Lashio, a branch of Caritas Myanmar, said its team had given money to IDPs staying in Catholic and Kachin Baptist churches in Nan Zan Latt village in Hsewi township.

“We are still monitoring the situation and will respond with more aid if they need to stay longer in the churches,” he told ucanews.com, adding that there are not enough latrines for all IDPs.

Peter Naung Lat, who was displaced due to fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army in Kutkai township in 2012, said more than 200 villagers fled their homes and went to a Kachin Baptist church on Aug. 19.

“Food is an urgent need for new IDPs as aid groups such as the U.N. and NGOs cannot access to it due to insecurity and blocked roads as a result of ongoing fighting,” said Naung Lat, who is helping to provide rice for IDPs.

He said commodity prices are high and people cannot travel to shop.

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Tensions remain high and fighting has spread to several townships in the northern state since Aug. 15 following coordinated attacks by three northern alliance groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — on military and police posts.

The clashes have left 14 people dead — nine military officers, three police officers and two civilians.

Myanmar’s military has reportedly said it still wants to hold peace talks with armed ethnic groups in Shan State.

On Aug. 25, the northern alliance released a statement urging the public to build bunkers and to stay inside if they hear gunfire.

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy and Myanmar’s de facto prime minister, has pledged to end the decades-long armed conflict but peace remains elusive and renewed clashes have undermined her peace initiatives.

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