CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 August 2019

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Myanmar seeks to close camps for people displaced by conflict

MANDALAY (UCAN): With no major clashes between government forces and rebels in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State for the past year, moves are afoot to resettle large numbers of displaced civilians. Preparations include direct discussions between Christian leaders and government officials.
 
More than 120,00 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been living in 169 camps in Kachin and neighbouring Northern Shan State since 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire broke down. Thirty-seven per cent of the camps are in areas beyond government control.
 
The Kachin Humanitarian Concern Committee (KHCC), comprising several Christian Churches, has played a substantial role in resettlement programmes in collaboration with the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which is the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
 
In August, the KHCC and a government team visited various Kachin IDP camps.
 
San Awng, a Catholic and a member of a group called Peace Talk Creation, hopes that some displaced people will be able to start going back to their homes when the wet season ends in October or November, but this would have to be done in stages, as some areas remain unsafed.
 
The KHCC expect that, in the short term, between 6,000 and 10,000 might be able to return to their places of origin or be resettled.
 
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank argues that resettlement efforts will be limited unless a formal ceasefire is agreed as, apart from the issue of the Kachin, large numbers of Muslim ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State have either been driven by strife and repression into IDP camps or across into Bangladesh as refugees.
 
Internally displaced Rohingya mainly rely on aid from the United Nations and non government groups.
 
Closing of all IDP camps in Rakhine was a key recommendation of a commission of inquiry conducted by former United Nations (UN) secretary general, Kofi Annan, along with concrete steps to end forced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.
 
UN deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, has said while the government of Myanmar has moved to close some IDP camps, Rohingya were not consulted and few of the new settlements are in their places of origin.
 
“Given restrictions on their freedom of movement and lack of access to sustainable livelihoods, these new settlements will likely further entrench segregation and dependency on humanitarian aid,” Gilmore told the Human Rights Council in Geneva in July.
 
Rakhine State has seen renewed fighting between the military and the largely Buddhist Arakan Army since last December with at least 35,000 civilians displaced.
 
Meanwhile, Karen State in eastern Myanmar is generally considered less dangerous since a number of local militias fighting for autonomy in 2015 joined a ceasefire agreement with the government.
 
“The more progress on peace talks, the more prospect for the return of IDPs to their respective villages,” said Reverend Saw Matthew Aye, an ethnic Karen and a member of an officially sanctioned joint monitoring committee.
 
Overall there is a further impediment to various post-conflict resettlement schemes in the multi-ethnic nation; remnant landmines spread over 71 townships in 10 states and regions.

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