Unrest threatens Myanmar’s ceasefire plans

A FRESH surge in unrest in Myanmar’s war-torn northern Kachin state could destabilise nationwide ceasefire plans, a senior minister warned Monday, as local activists expressed alarm over civilians trapped by the fighting.

Activists say hundreds of people have been caught up in clashes since last week around Hpakant township, a jade-rich area near the border with China, which state-backed media has blamed on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

“There are so many reasons to believe that elements within the KIA who do not want peace have intentionally tried to disturb the nationwide ceasefire accord process,” Information Minister Ye Htut said in a post on his Facebook page.

Tensions in Kachin, where a 17-year ceasefire between rebels and the government splintered in 2011, have overshadowed efforts to call an end to the multiple civil wars in Myanmar’s ethnic minority borderlands that have blighted the country for more than half a century.

Some 98,000 people have been forced from their homes by the fighting in Kachin and northern areas of neighbouring Shan state, according to the United Nations, which has struggled to reach tens of thousands of those affected.

The latest unrest was sparked on January 15 with the brief abduction of the Kachin state transport minister, who was later released, and three policemen believed still to be held.

Several attempted bomb attacks on security forces and mining firms have been reported in recent days in the area, according to the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Monday, although most were unsuccessful.

Local activists said a consortium of religious and civil society groups had sent some 200 cars to try and remove civilians from the area but had been prevented from getting through to the village by the national army.

Tsa Ji, director of Kachin Development Networking Group, told AFP that schools were closed and fear had spread through the area.

“The villagers want to get out. They are afraid just seeing (Myanmar) soldiers in uniform. There is no safety for women,” he said, referring to long-standing claims of serious human rights abuses by Myanmar’s armed forces.

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