YANGON - The United Nations has expressed serious concern for hundreds of Myanmar civilians, many of them children, trapped in a conflict zone in northern Kachin state amid renewed clashes between the army and rebels.
It said over a thousand displaced people are thought to be running short of food after being caught in a new bout of fighting between troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Mansi township in recent days, despite ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
“I am seriously concerned about the civilians being caught in any crossfire, especially children and the elderly,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Ashok Nigam in a statement released late Friday. Conflict in Kachin, near the northern border with China, broke out in June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire crumbled. It has displaced some 100,000 people. “Hostilities must cease,” said Nigam of the Mansi fighting, adding that aid agencies should be allowed access to civilians in the area, who are deemed “in urgent need of assistance”. The UN said local aid groups were now unable to reach the displaced there and have reported that they “have only food for a few days”.
Bloodshed in Kachin - along with religious unrest elsewhere in the country - has overshadowed widely praised political changes as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule. President Thein Sein’s reformist government has reached tentative peace deals with most major ethnic minority rebel groups in the country, which has been racked by civil wars since independence from Britain in 1948.
Earlier this month, Myanmar hailed a fresh peace deal in ongoing talks to end the Kachin fighting - the country’s last major active civil war. The agreement, which followed three days of negotiations that were observed by representatives from the UN and China among others, was aimed at laying the “foundation for political dialogue” and working towards peace, according to government mediators.