Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson: IDP Return Must Not Be Rushed or Militarized

Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson

KNG spoke with Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson, the head of the Kachin Humanitarian Concern Committee (KHCC), on the challenges surrounding internally displaced people’s (IDPs) return to their homes. Dr. Samson, who is also the chairperson of the Kachin Baptist Convention, met with representatives from the Burmese government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) on February 10, with EU officials on February 11, and a delegation from the Nippon Foundation on the 12th. KNG asked him about the results of these recent discussions.

What issues were discussed in the meetings with the NRPC, EU and Nippon Foundation?

We mainly discuss about whether IDPs can return home in the informal meetings. We don't want the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) to manage the sending of IDPs back to their villages. We have a committee to help with the IDPs’ safe return home. We want the government to cooperate with us for their return. We will also negotiate with both the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] and the Tatmadaw. We will hold official meeting with the NRPC about the IDPs returning home. The important thing is the meeting between the NRPC and the KIO and the meeting between the Tatmadaw and the KIO. These meetings are really essential. Depends on the results, we will continue the implementation process. We want all stakeholders to cooperate with KHCC and operate under KHCC policy.

Regarding the meeting with EU officials, we discussed how the EU could help in the clearance of landmines around villages. We don't want the Tatmadaw's landmines removal program. We want both the KIA and Tatmadaw cooperate to remove these landmines. We also don't want to use military vehicles for IDPs when they return home. EU officials said that they would help us where necessary.

Nippon Foundation officials once told us that they would only provide assistance to IDPs living in camps located in government-controlled areas, because the Nippon Foundation is an official working partner with the government. However, in this meeting, they told us that they would provide assistance to IDPs living in both government-controlled areas and KIO-controlled areas. They also told us that they would help with IDPs’ return home. We KHCC, will have a meeting soon and then we will have official meetings with both the KIO and NRPC.

How does KHCC operate?

KHCC is formed with religious groups and CSOs [civil society organizations]. The objective is to help IDPs safely return home. KHCC is a policymaker: KHCC discusses policy issues during meetings with the government. The JST [Joint Strategy Team] and CSOs are working on implementation issues. KHCC will have a meeting on February 19. Then KHCC will have an official meeting with NRPC in early March.

The Burma Army has tried to facilitate IDPs’ return home after the Tatmadaw declared a four-month unilateral ceasefire in the north. Is it the right time for IDPs to return home?

Regarding the Tatmadaw’s four-month unilateral ceasefire, we will have to see whether it is honest or a trick. The Burma Army announced this unilateral ceasefire after the KIO chairman brought up IDP issues. They [the Burma Army] should have begun this unilateral ceasefire after a meeting with the KIO. But they released information about it before meeting with the KIO. I don’t think it’s an honest action. Another thing is that they permitted Kachin IDPs to return to Nam San Yang village. This was done by the Burma Army without the knowledge of the government. The government didn't know about it but later agreed to it because the Tatmadaw made it happen. We don't want IDPs to be forced to return home within this four-month period. We don't accept IDPs being forced to return during this time. We don't want IDPs to be sent back to their villages in military vehicles.

I think, they [the Burma Army] may be under political pressure: two out of four months of the unilateral ceasefire have passed. It's impossible for all IDPs to return home within the remaining two months. An extension of the four-month unilateral ceasefire period depends on the results of the meeting between the KIO and the government. The issue of IDP return is really important at this time.

If the Tatmadaw tries to pull a trick, we will lose trust in them. We can clearly see that the situation could worsen.