Myanmar seeks closure of camps for people displaced by conflict

Progress has been made on several fronts, but many obstacles remain
Myanmar seeks closure of camps for people displaced by conflict

In this picture taken on May 13, 2018, an internally displaced woman with a child hangs laundry outside a temporary shelter at a church compound in Myitkyina, Kachin State. Due to conflict between government forces and rebels, more than 120,00 people live in camps in Kachin and neighboring Shan State. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu/AFP)

With no major clashes between government forces and rebels in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State for the past year, moves are afoot to resettle large numbers of displaced civilians.

Preparations include direct discussions between Christian leaders and government officials.

More than 120,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been living in camps in Kachin and neighboring Northern Shan State since 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire broke down.

There are 169 camps in Kachin and Northern Shan states of which 37 percent are in areas beyond government control.

The Kachin Humanitarian Concern Committee (KHCC), comprising several Christian churches, has played a substantial role in resettlement programs in collaboration with the government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

In August, the KHCC and a government team visited various Kachin IDP camps.

Kachins displaced by war

San Awng, a Catholic and a member of a group called 'Peace Talk Creation', hopes that some displaced people will be able to start going back to their homes when the wet season ends in October or November.

But this would have to be done in stages, as some areas remain unsafe, Awng added.

The KHCC expected that, in the short term, between 6,000 and 10,000 might be able to return to their places of origin or be resettled.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank argues that resettlement efforts will be limited unless a formal ceasefire is agreed.

As well as the issue of the Kachin, large numbers of Muslim ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State have either been driven by strife and repression into IDP camps or across into Bangladesh as refugees.

Internally displaced Rohingya mainly rely on aid from the United Nations and non governmental groups.

Closing of all IDP camps in Rakhine was a key recommendation of a commission of inquiry conducted by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan along with concrete steps to end forced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore has said while the government of Myanmar has moved to close some IDP camps, Rohingya were not consulted and few of the new settlements are in their places of origin.

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"Given restrictions on their freedom of movement and lack of access to sustainable livelihoods, these new settlements will likely further entrench segregation and dependency on humanitarian aid," Gilmore told the Human Rights Council in Geneva in July.

Rakhine State has seen renewed fighting between the military and the largely Buddhist Arakan Army since last December with at least 35,000 civilians displaced.

Meanwhile, Karen State in eastern Myanmar is generally considered less dangerous since a number of local militias fighting for autonomy in 2015 joined a ceasefire agreement with the government.

"The more progress on peace talks, the more prospect for the return of IDPs to their respective villages," said Reverend Saw Matthew Aye, an ethnic Karen and a member of an officially sanctioned joint monitoring committee.

Overall there is a further impediment to various post-conflict resettlement schemes in the multi-ethnic nation; remnant landmines spread over 71 townships in 10 states and regions.

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