Renewed fighting sends civilians fleeing in Myanmar's Kayin State

Fighting has raised concerns about the military's commitment to genuine peace
Renewed fighting sends civilians fleeing in Myanmar's Kayin State

A file image of Kayin women in a makeshift shelter at Myaing Gyi Ngu camp for internally displaced people in Hlaingbwe township, Kayin State on May 23. (ucanews.com photo)

Hundreds of ethnic Kayin have sought refuge in camps to avoid renewed fighting between Myanmar's military and the Kayin National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the country's south-east.

Some 300 Kayin (also known as Karen) fled their homes in Kayin State to escape the fighting in Hpapun township Aug. 29 and Sept.1.

The displaced Kayin are currently taking refuge in Myaing Gyi Ngu where more than 4,700 IDPs (internally displaced people) have taken refuge at two camps since 2016.

Shwe Tun, manager of a camp in Myaing Gyi Ngu, said that 254 people arrived there since Aug. 29.

"We provide rice to the new IDPs. We have been sharing our rations and some private donors are also supporting with food items," Shwe Tun told ucanews.com.

Ma Cho, a displaced Buddhist woman from Kan Nyi Naung village, said she heard gunfire near her home, prompting her to flee.

"We don't dare to go back to the village so we have no idea how long we need to stay here," Ma Cho told ucanews.com.

She said the government informed them that they would provide food but none has so far been distributed.

This is the second time Ma Cho has fled her home. The first was in 2014.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, vice-chairman of Karen National Union (KNU) — the political wing of the KNLA — said clashes erupted between the military and KNLA Aug. 29 and Sept. 1. Htoo Win said the military entered KNU territory.

He said the KNLA troops fired warning shots towards the military and then two artillery shells from the military fell near Kan Nyi Naung village prompting villagers to flee their homes.

"The fighting is not serious — just skirmishes — so it will not affect the ongoing peace process," Htoo Win told ucanews.com. "While we are talking about peace, clashes can erupt at the ground level but we can overcome it through dialogue," he said.

The KNU have sent a letter of complaint to the military commander and have informed the joint monitoring committee who observe ceasefire obligations, he said.

The KNU are among eight armed ethnic groups who signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement in October 2015.  

In March, more than 2,400 people fled into the jungle to avoid a deployment of six Myanmar battalions which were used for road construction security in Hpa-pun township. More than 50 clashes between the military and the KNLA followed.

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The renewed fighting has raised concerns about the military's commitment to genuine peace as Kayin State has been relatively calm since a bilateral ceasefire was signed in 2012.

On May 17, military chief Min Aung Hlaing met with KNU and KNLA officials in Yangon and agreed to a temporarily halt construction and withdraw troops from the area.

The KNU has fought for autonomy since Myanmar won independence from Great Britain in 1948. More than 60 years of civil war between the KNU and Myanmar military have left over 100,000 Kayin refugees in camps along the Thai border.

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