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Thousands flee renewed fighting in Myanmar's north

Church groups are helping those displaced by fighting between government forces and armed ethnic groups

Thousands flee renewed fighting in Myanmar's north

A non-commissioned officer of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) overlooks new recruits at a training camp outside Laiza, a KIA-controlled stronghold in Myanmar's north in this file image. KIA and three other rebel groups conducted attacks against government positions on the weekend just past. (Photo by AFP)

John Zaw, Mandalay
Myanmar

November 22, 2016

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Church groups are helping those affected by recent fighting between government forces and ethnic groups in Myanmar's northern Shan State.

Coordinated attacks by ethnic armed groups targeted military checkpoints, police outposts and a trade center near the state's Chinese border on Nov. 20. At least nine people died and 29 others injured while more than 2,000 have taken refuge in churches and monasteries according to state media Nov. 22.

Church groups in the town of Muse bordering China are sheltering some 250 people, mostly Kachins and Burmese, in a Catholic and two Baptist churches.

"We are now providing temporary shelter while the state government is providing rice and non-food items to the people," Zau Ra, a leader from a Baptist Church in the town told ucanews.com.

U Eddie, project manager of Karuna (Caritas) Lashio, said that they have provided financial aid to assist with food supplies for those people taking refuge at the Catholic Church.

"We are still observing the situation as we presume it is a temporary displacement but will respond to the needs more depending on the conditions," U Eddie told ucanews.com.

U Eddie said people in the border town of Monggu are also very concerned about their safety. He visited the area on Nov. 18, which he said had suffered frequent fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army.

"I saw people who had dug up their homes to be like a bunker to hide in," he said.

The four ethnic armed groups, known as the Northern Alliance, who are involved in the recent fighting are the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army. They have urged civilians to avoid traveling in the area and to remain in safe areas.

In a Nov. 21 statement the groups said they launched the recent attacks because the military stepped up operations in ethnic areas.

More than 3,000 civilians fled into neighboring China, say state-run Chinese media reports.

 

Hopes of peace from religious leaders

The recent fighting occurred just days after the country's religious leaders — including Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon — released a joint statement voicing their concerns about ongoing conflict in Kachin and Shan states.

"We, representatives of all religions living in Myanmar appeal to political leaders, military leaders and armed groups to seek the path of reconciliation and make peace the common religion of all our people," said their statement released Nov. 15.

They said old conflicts are festering while new conflicts are erupting in many areas.

"Our wars are not winnable. Sixty years have proved that. It has inflicted chronic suffering on thousands," the religious leaders said.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi's government

The coordinated attacks by the groups in the Northern Alliance, who are yet to sign the Nation Wide Ceasefire Agreement, is also a blow to Aung San Suu Kyi's government. The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has pledged to end hostilities in the country, which has been bedeviled with ethnic conflicts for nearly 70 years.

Suu Kyi convened the 21st Century Panglong Conference in late August but the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army were excluded from the conference. The military demanded that they give up their arms as a condition to attend.

However, the Kachin Independence Army's political arm, the Kachin Independence Organization did attend. 

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