Churches and Buddhist monasteries in the Hpakant (or Hpakan) jade mining area of Burma's northern Kachin State have taken in nearly 1,000 refugees since the beginning of the year. The huge increase in displaced people in the Hpakant area is a result of the ongoing Burmese army offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), according to sources on the ground.
The bulk of the new internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter in two government controlled towns, Hpakant town and Lawng Hkang town, according to local jade businessmen.
Over the last few days more than 300 people arrived at Lawng Hkang Kachin Baptist Church and more than 120 people have gone to the Maw Si Za Kachin Baptist Church. An additional 300 plus people sought shelter at the Maw Si Zar Buddhist temple and more than 170 people are thought to have fled to nearby Sha-it Yang village, the Kachin News Group (KNG) has learned.
Most of the refugees who recently arrived at the churches and monasteries are from small villages located on the Hpakant road between Nam Ya and Lawng Hkang, say KIO officials in the area.
Many of the refugees say they fled the fighting to avoid being killed or forced into service by the Burmese soldiers. Many of the women refugees say they worry about being raped by government forces. A well founded fear, given that recently released reports from Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights reveal that numerous women were raped by army troops since fighting began between the Burmese army and the KIO last June.
According to KIO officials, fighting along the Hpakant road has increased since a group of more than 400 Burmese troops arrived during the New Year. Citing public safety, the KIO's armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) banned all civilian travel on the Hpakant road beginning January 4.
According to the KIA, Burmese government forces in the Hpakant area appear to be mostly under the Army's Northern Command, with troops from IB. No 58 based in Waingmaw, IB No. 298, LIB No. 384 based in Kawa Yang, LIB No. 385 and 386 based in Nam-mam, LIB No. 521 based in Pinbaw-based and from LID No. 88 based in Magway.
Fighting between the Kachin resistance and Burmese government forces has continued despite President Thein Sein issuing a decree to the army on December 10 that it halt its offensive against the KIO. It remains unclear what control Thein Sein, a retired general and his nominally civilian government have over Burma's armed forces. The Burmese army's offensive against the KIO began in June 2011 more than 3 months after Thein Sein officially took power from General Than Shwe.