Hundreds of civilians have fled their homes and are seeking refuge in churches in Myanmar's conflict-torn Kachin State amid the military's offensive against Kachin rebels. More than 900 civilians from Kasung and Zup Mai villages are taking refuge in two Catholic churches and a Baptist church in Namti town after church groups rescued them on April 22. Father Peter Hka Awng Tu, parish priest of St. Columban's Cathedral
, said people from Zup Mai had to walk for three days after fleeing their homes on April 20. The priest said clothes donated by parishioners and food were given to the displaced people on April 23. He said they rescued fleeing civilians, including women, children and the elderly, after he had a meeting with the military's northern commander, who gave the green light. "At present people can't go back to their villages as it is not safe for them because more fighting could erupt. Church groups will continue providing humanitarian assistance," Father Awng Tu told ucanews.com. On April 20, Myanmar's military launched an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army
(KIA) by using airstrikes near Kasung village that led to hundreds of people fleeing their homes. More than 1,000 civilians from Kasung, which is about 25 kilometers from Namti town, fled their homes in August 2017 following clashes between the military and the KIA. Namti town is about 26 kilometers from Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State. Newly displaced people carry their belongings before church groups took them to churches in Namti town on April 22. (Photo by Kachin Baptist Convention)
More than 2,000 people remain trapped in a jungle since heavy fighting between Myanmar's military and the KIA erupted near Awng Lawt and nearby villages on April 11. About 200 Catholics remain stranded after attending a jubilee celebration on April 8-9 in Tanai, a gold and amber mining region, and cannot return to their village, according to Father Awng Tu. The priest said Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina
had a meeting with Maj-Gen Nyi Nyi Swe, the military's northern commander, on April 18 to discuss the trapped civilians, humanitarian assistance, ongoing fighting and the peace process.
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Rev. Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said the church and local donors are providing temporary shelter, food and non-food items to newly displaced people. "While we are very concerned for the safety of civilians trapped in a jungle with a lack of food and no access to aid groups, more fighting erupted that led more people to become displaced," Rev. Samson told ucanews.com. The Baptist leader said the Catholic and Baptist churches are planning a new resettlement program for those who have twice fled their villages and those unable to return to their homes. About 3,000 people have been recently displaced in Kachin State, according to a United Nations report on April 23. Kachin State is 90 percent Christian and has been beset by sporadic fighting for several decades. More than 100,000 people remain displaced in Kachin and Shan states since fighting restarted on June 9, 2011. Myanmar's military has stepped up its offensive in Kachin since early December by 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. The fighting has also raised questions about how much influence State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has over the military.