Kachin War Aid Largely a Local Affair
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Kachin War Aid Largely a Local Affair

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / THE IRRAWADDY Wednesday, March 7, 2012

KIO doctor issues prescription to IDPs at Jeyang camp clinic (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

LAIZA, Kachin State—With headlights dimmed it is difficult to spot every rubble-strewn crest-and-wave in time, and the surrounding dark enhances the jolts from the bumps and hollows in the coiling road from Laiza to Jeyang camp.

It is just a 15 minute drive from Laiza—headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—to Jeyang, site of the largest camp for the estimated 70,000 people driven from their homes by fighting in the region.

The current conflict began in June 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire between the KIO and Burmese government. The Jeyang camp sits a stone's throw from the Burma-China border, marked by a river of the same name, and in what in daytime is sun-lit valley floor, walled off on either side by haze-topped, tree-lined slopes.

The sun, as it turns out, keeps the camp lit at night as well. Pointing to the somewhat faint street lamps, arranged at 10-yard intervals either side of the road through the camp, Kachin activist San Naw said “the KIO got those lamps from China. They are solar-powered and charge up during the day so there's some light in the camp at night.”

The previous morning, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) varnished newly-made latrine huts, while nearby hundreds of children attended a camp school run by teachers who fled the same villages as the rest of the 5,600 population.

Headmaster Hkun San escaped Ban Dawng village, 20 miles from Laiza, as Burmese troops approached in August 2011. “We do not have enough classroom space here, and we have only 32 teachers for 1,056 students,” he said.

The camp is managed and largely-funded by the KIO, although officials such as KIO Relief Committee head Labang Doi Pyi Sang are reluctant to talk up the group's work with IDPs, saying they are just doing what they can to help.

“We try as much as we can to replicate their village life here,” he says, pointing to the wood-and-bamboo buildings close by. A school, clinic and market lie to the left, with Baptist and Catholic churches to the right. The mostly Christian Kachins are an ethnic minority who number around one million people living in Burma's northern reaches.

Local NGOs are supplementing the KIO effort. At Mai Ja Yang, another KIO stronghold on the China border but several hours drive from Laiza, there are around 5,000 IDPs from northern Shan State. Some stay at accommodation intended for Chinese casino workers who fled soon after the onset of fighting last summer.

Hkawng Nan, a 19-year-old nurse working at a temporary clinic set up to assist IDPs in Mai Ja Yang, said, “we don't always have enough things and sometimes have to send people to the hospital when we run out.” In the IDP camp nearby, children show signs of skin infection, said Nag Zing Bawkwa, a doctor at Mai Ja Yang Hospital. “We see many cases of diarrhea and respiratory conditions,” he adds.

Some of the displaced now staying around Mai Ja Yang are supported by Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN), a local NGO. “We are trying to look after 20,000 IDPs,” says Maran Tu, the WPN vice-chairman at her office in Mai Ja Yang.

WPN is part of a network called Relief Action Network for IDP and Refugees (RANIR) which is headed by La Rip. He told The Irrawaddy that the bulk of money for the relief effort comes from the KIO and other Kachin organizations. “Forty percent is from the KIO and another 20 percent from Kachins in China, the USA, Thailand, the UK and more still from Kachin church groups,” he explains.

He says that the relief effort has been mostly unsupported from outside, aside from diaspora Kachin, adding that “we have spent around 500 million kyat in helping the IDPs.”

“We have received some small donations,” he says, “but the INGOs [international NGOs] say that we don't have the capacity here to work to their international standards, and they would like to come here and do the work themselves.”

RANIR's office telephone number is written on a note posted at eye-level beside the main door at the KIO headquarters. In rebel-held Kachin areas, the dividing line between the KIO and NGOs  is not so clear—a nexus in keeping with what is often the case in territories where civil conflict takes place.

La Rip is aware of this dilemma, which frequently comes up in policy and academic debates on delivering international humanitarian assistance to war zones. The UN and INGOs often operate in rebel-held areas around the globe, or work in tandem with local NGOs in locations where “complete independence” is not assured or clear.

Barbara Manzi is head of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in Rangoon. Speaking by telephone, she says that the UN is currently discussing ways to access all areas of Kachin State where IDPs are located.

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Mawshe Wrote:
Kachin State is the most isolated region where drug abuse is the most rampant in Myanmar. The need to improve Infrastructure and communication is intentionally ignored by Naypyidaw government who does not want to improve livelihood of ethnic nationalities but simply impose a rigid military control to extract natural resources. Again INGO staffs staffs are only interested in safe places where security is promised by the regime. In fact, Kachin refugees are forgotten by Burmese and the world.

chindits Wrote:
Military Government is calling a KIO a terrorist group because they are helping IDPs?

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