As hundreds of internally displaced people of Myanmar’s Kokang self-administered region trickle back home, it is unclear just how long this conflict will drag on and what effect it might have on efforts to bring a full peace settlement to Myanmar.
The Myanmar military recently sent trucks to Lashio in Shan State in late April to help people displaced by fighting return home. The move came as fighting has eased between Myanmar government troops and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.
The recovery operation is being administered in Laukkai, capital of Kokang, by a state-controlled relocation and resettlement programme. This raises hopes that a comprehensive ceasefire deal with Myanmar’s many ethnic groups may come about.
But aid workers worry for the people’s security as sporadic clashes continue in the volatile region.
“The people have to go back to their homes as they have no other option to choose due to the arrangement of the government-led aid group,” says U Mg Mg Than, a local aid worker and volunteer from Lashio city.
“But I have realized that almost all people have much concern for their security despite their return,” he said.
He says most returnees are worried about employment opportunities in Laukkai as most Chinese business owners have already fled the region due to the fighting.
At least 30,000 people have fled over the border into China. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (UNOCHA) says around 13,000 people, mostly ethnic Bamar migrant workers, fled into other central Myanmar areas.
Myanmar declared a state of emergency in Kokang after Myanmar’s army launched a major offensive against the MNDAA on February 9.
In two months of fierce fighting, the government occupied 20 strategic positions once occupied by Kokang rebels, a state spokesman said.
More than 350 rebels and 126 soldiers of the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, have been killed. State media reported the recovery of the bodies of 74 Kokang rebel fighters left behind after an entire day of fighting on April 19.
Bamar migrant workers stand in line to get meals box in a Buddhist monastery in Lashio city in late February. Photo: Henry Htun
Despite the IDPs return, the area is far from stable.
The government’s use of new 122-millimeter rockets expands the potential for civilians getting caught in the crossfire, says U Tun Myat Lin, a spokesman for MNDAA.
Even as the government convoy was bringing people home on April 22, rockets were still exploding in villages northeast of Laukkai, adds U Tun Myat Lin.
“Peace is yet to be restored in Kokang region as small clashes still go on. Myanmar’s military forced the IDPs from the camp on the China side to return to Laukkai by April 17 by threatening to kill them,” he claimed.
The government has sent 4,000 rice packages to Laukkai, the capital’s lower house MP, U Kyaw Ni Naing, told local media. He also announced a request to the president for a K2-3 billion Laukkai reconstruction fund.
That amount, however, may fall short of humanitarian needs if no permanent solution is found to the spreading conflict between Myanmar’s powerful military and ethnic rebel groups seeking greater civil, economic and political rights for their peoples.
Clashes in other ethnic areas in the Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states could also force Kokang to host other IDPs even as it struggles with recovery.
President U Thein Sein’s government has hailed the historic draft of a ceasefire deal with a host of ethnic armed groups to end more than five decades of civil war.
But unless the peace deal is comprehensive in scope, the fallout from the conflict will continue to scatter residents of conflict areas fleeing the fighting.
This Article first appeared in the March 26, 2015 edition of Mizzima Weekly.
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