UN says deal reached for Kachin refugees in KIO area

kachin-idp-mai-ja-yangMAI JA YANG, Buma — Speaking at press conference at the UN headquarters on Friday February 24, UN special envoy for Burma Vijay Nambiar, claimed that the UN had recently reached an agreement with Burmese government officials that would allow aid to reach displaced civilians who have taken shelter in territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

The apparent diplomatic breakthrough described by Nambiar, comes more than two months after the Burmese government allowed a small four-person UN team accompanied by a small amount of supplies to visit several camps located at the KIO's Laiza headquarters on December 12. Nambiar said he took part in the negotiations during his recent trip to Burma which took place from February 13 to the 17.

It remains unclear when UN the aid convoy will head to KIO territory, where an estimated 45,000 internally displaced people are currently languishing in underfunded camps, the UN has yet to respond to this reporter's follow up questions about a timetable and other details relating to the upcoming convoy.

Government insistence that their aid be included in UN convoy caused delays
Responding to a question posed by Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press, Nambiar described the aid negotiations as taking time due to demand's of the Burmese representatives from the Union Peace Committee.

“There were certain difficulties posed by the government's insistence that government supplies should also be accompanied,” Nambiar said.

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's former chief of staff added “We continued talks with them and eventually they were able to relent to the extent that they said they would take both the both UN as well as government assistance up to the border.  And if of course the rebels insisted that they would not receive the government assistance, they would hold back the government assistance and let the UN supplies convoy goes through.”

During the UN's December 12 visit the KIO refused to accept several truckloads of aid donated by the Burmese government which the UN team had brought with them. While the KIO allowed the UN aid to be distributed to the refugees, KIO said they declined the government aid because they didn't want to give a propaganda coup to the military side which they say has been terrorizing Kachin civilians. An assessment backed up several recent reports released by Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and the Refugees International.

The Union Peace Committee that Nambiar was negotiating with is a parliamentary group that consists largely of ex-military officials elected under the pro-military Union State and Development Party (USDP) banner.

While ceasefire negotiating with the Karen National Union, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and the Chin National Front were concluded with a separate team led by Burma's Railway minister Aung Min, issues related the Kachin conflict including the KIO peace negotiations have been handled by the parliamentary committee, a group reportedly full of Than Shwe loyalists.

The committee is led by the former State Peace and Development Council Industry Minister-1, Aung Thaung.  The retired general is cited by many opposition activities as one of the architect's of a 2003 mob attack on Aung Suu Kyi and her supporters in northern in Burma which killed dozens of NLD activists and became known as the Depayin massacre.

Aung Thaung is known to be close to General Than Shwe and is described in leaked US diplomatic cables as a "notorious hardliner".

UN mostly absent from growing Kachin refugee crisis
More than 9 months of fighting between Burma's armed forces and the Kachin Independence Organization has resulted in what seasoned Burma observers say is some of the worst fighting to affect the country in two decades.

The impact on civilians has been significant however an overwhelming majority of the total estimated 60,000 people displaced by the conflict in Kachin and northern Shan state have had no contact whatsoever with any of the various UN agencies who are mandated to deal with humanitarian crises.

Although the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Organization for Humanitarian (UNOCHA), UNICEF and the World Food Program (WFP) have operations in Burma all of these agencies have been almost totally excluded from delivering relief to the majority of Kachin refugees who have taken shelter behind the KIO's front lines. The only exception was the brief UN convoy that visited Laiza in December that only sent four people who mostly evaluated the situation.

The various UN agencies have instead been restricted to helping a small minority of Kachin refugees who have taken shelter in government controlled areas. Although the internally displaced people's camps in government areas are said to be in far better condition more than the 45,000 people are thought to have fled to the KIO controlled areas.  Thousands more refugees are said to have taken shelter in extremely temporary camps located in China.

A 60 year-old farmer from Kachin state's Bhamo district who has taken shelter at camp near Mai Ja Yang told the Kachin News Group he looked forward to a UN team visiting his camp. “The UN should come and visit us and see how we are suffering, it’s not an easy situation here”, he said.

Full Nambiar Press Conference available online
The full press conference in which Nambiar described his recent trip to Burma can be viewed online at the UN press website.


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