A Catholic bishop in Myanmar's troubled Kachin State is planning Christmas visits to camps for people displaced by violent clashes between rebels and government forces. Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam
said he aims to give moral support to those in internally displaced person's camps. "I'm going to give the message of holiness and patience to the IDPs who have longed to return to their homes after getting peace," Bishop Gam said. Bishop Gam added that he wants to emphasise the importance of inner tranquility even though peace remains elusive. He said IDPs
are concerned for their safety as fighting commonly erupts before Christmas each year, with mortar shells falling near IDP camps on past occasions. "They heard gunfire and mortar shells firing so the joyful moment of Christmas became anxiety and fear," Bishop Gam told ucanews.com. On Dec.23, Bishop Gam will start his pastoral visit to three parishes in Banmaw Diocese including camps near Laiza, which borders with China. Renewed fighting in Kachin State between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
and the Myanmar military has forced more than 100,000 people into the IDP camps. Civil war has plagued the mountainous northern state on and off since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948. The majority of the state's 1.7 million Kachins are Christians, among them 116,000 are Catholics. Civilians continue to be severely impacted by the ongoing armed conflict with more than 74,500 people temporarily displaced in 29 townships in Kachin and neighboring Shan states between January 2017 and December 10, 2018, according to the latest report of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Bishop Gam, who is also the chairman of Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar, said the Catholic Church is playing a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance to the camps amid international funding shortfalls and restrictions on sending aid. "Things are not improving as we have faced difficulty to provide aid to the IDP camps, especially in non-governmental (controlled) areas since three years ago," the 65-year-old bishop said. He added that small numbers of people from the camps have started to go back to villages where there are no clashes between government forces and KIA to work for daily survival. He remains optimistic despite what he acknowledges will be a long process towards a durable peace.
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"I hope more consultations will be done in 2019 among the stakeholders such as the government, the military and ethnic armed groups as a result of advocacy on peace," said the bishop. He realizes ethnic people, including many Kachins, are losing hope in Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government as a result of the conflict intensifying. "The civilian government does not have full control over the country, especially in security and border affairs, which is directly controlled by Myanmar's military," Bishop Gam said. Myanmar's military forces stepped-up offensive operations in Kachin State in early April, launching attacks against the KIA
using heavy artillery, helicopters and jet fighters. The government has pledged to bring an end to the decades-long conflict, but renewed clashes have undermined peace initiatives.