CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 August 2018

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Myanmar’s forgotten civil war goes on

MANDALAY (UCAN): A largely forgotten civil war has been raging in Kachin State, Myamar, while the world’s focus has been on 700,000 Muslim Rohingya who have been fleeing a military crackdown in western Rakhine State since August 2017.
 
One of the longest-running civil wars in the world intensified dramatically in April when Myanmar’s military stepped up dry-season offensives using helicopter gunships and heavy artillery against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is yet to sign a national peace agreement with the government.
 
Seng Jar, a 33-year-old mother of two, believes she had no choice other than to flee into the jungle when military fighter jets started bombing near her village in Kachin State.
 
She was part of a group of 300 women, children and elderly who fled Awng Lawt village of Tanai township, an amber and gold mining region, on April 11. The displaced included people who were ill as well as pregnant women.
 
“We didn’t dare to flee to the nearby town as we feared we might encounter troops on the way,” Seng Jar said.
 
Frantic phone calls seeking help from Baptist leaders were in vain.
 
“Later we learned that the military didn’t allow a rescue mission, so we had to spend days and nights in the jungle,” Seng Jar recalled.
 
The fleeing villagers shared rice and collected edible wild plants.
 
Seng Jar’s group finally reached a Kachin Baptist church in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, on May 8 where about 600 people had taken refuge.
 
However, Seng Jar estimated that several hundred more people remained trapped in the jungle area.
 
Christian churches in Tanai and Latwa townships were also sheltering displaced people.
 
More than 7,400 people—newly displaced amid widespread fighting in eight townships including Tanai, Ingyanyang and Hpakant—have been sheltering at both Catholic and Baptist churches, according to the United Nations.
 
The Kachin have been pushing for self-determination and autonomy in since 1961.
 
Renewed fighting erupted in 2011 following the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire.
 
More than 120,000 people have remained in 179 camps for internally displaced persons in Kachin and neighbouring Shan State.
 
Most of the Kachin’s 1.7 million inhabitants are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.
 
Nang Moon, who is eight months pregnant, fled her home in Injangyang township on April 25 when she heard Myanmar’s military fighter jets bombing near her village.
 
“We were trembling with fear, so we decided to leave immediately,” said Nang Moon, who was driven from her home for the first time.
 
Twenty-five women and children trekked into a forested area, eating only rice and sleeping on the ground, before reacing an old village where there were still a few dwellings.
 
On May 15, they joined nearly 750 people already taking refuge at the Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Myitkyina.
 
“As we had to walk for some days, we suffered from body and leg pain,” said one 23-year-old mother.
 
Thirty-two Kachin organizations have urged the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for military violations against civilians and denial of humanitarian assistance.
 
Manam Tu Ja, former leader of the Kachin Independence Organisation, the political wing of the KIA, described the fighting as widespread.
 
The government of state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, has so far been unable to exert control over the military, said Tu Ja, who is also chairperson of the Kachin State Democracy Party.
 
The government has pledged to bring an end to various decades-long civil wars, but renewed clashes have undermined peace initiatives.
 
Fighting in Kachin State spilled into northern Shan State on May 12, leaving 19 people dead and 27 injured.
 
Joseph Inkhan Tanjar was recently displaced from his home for the first time.
 
“In the current situation, we can’t go back to our homes as Myanmar’s military has reinforced its troops in Kachin,” said Tanjar, who took refuge at the Queen of Heaven Catholic Church in Tangphre village, near Myitkyina, together with 1,200 others.

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