Thursday, January 17, 2019
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Fleeing Kachin face food, medicine shortage amid Myanmar clashes

Clashes between Myanmar army and Kachin fighters leave more than 100,000 displaced since 2011.

Almost 2,000 civilians from Myanmar's Kachin community, trapped in a jungle while escaping clashes between the army and the guerrillas, are in urgent need of medical attention, the community leaders said.

The latest fighting in the northern state's Tanai town started earlier this month with government shelling and air strikes, in response to threats by the Kachin Independence Army to retake lost territory.

Civilians from the Christian ethnic community are trapped without medicine or sufficient food, Mung Dan, a Baptist community leader, said on Wednesday.

The trapped group includes five pregnant women, 93 elderly people, and other villagers wounded by mortar shelling, he added.

"Even today, it's been raining the whole day in our region and these civilians do not have any shelter yet and they are suffering from sickness as well," he said.

Awng Ja, member of the Kachin State Women Network, which helps displaced women, said the NGO's request to rescue civilians has not yet been approved.

"We have been asking permission to rescue people who are trapped in the jungle and they are in a very critical condition but the state minister said only if the military granted us access, we can rescue these civilians," said Awng. 

An official from Tanai Baptist Church said many civilians are unable to flee.

"There are still many people from the amber mines who are unable to leave. The people who have arrived in Tanai were only able to leave via smuggling routes," said the official.

The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting on and off for decades against the government for greater autonomy.

The fighting resumed in 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 civilians displaced.

Restrictions on humanitarian assistance to the displaced Kachin ethnic minority have been dramatically increased by the Myanmar government, according to rights and aids groups.

Myanmar's military has long been accused of grave human rights violations against ethnic minority groups in different parts of the country, including the Rohingya that critics say amounts to "ethnic cleansing".

Almost 700,000 Rohingya from the country's Rakhine state have crossed into Bangladesh by the violent counter-insurgency sweeps by the army.

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