Interviews conducted by the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) with internally displaced people in Kachin State, show that large numbers of Kachin civilians were subjected by the Burma army, known as the Tatmadaw, to a series of major human rights violations, the rights group alleges in a report released earlier this week.
KWAT says that at the height of an army offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) last month, army troops "committed war crimes" against villagers in Hpakant, Danai and Injangyang townships. According to KWAT the army subjected the villagers to indiscriminate shelling and used some villages as human shields and mine sweepers, while blocking those displaced from their homes from accessing shelter or other humanitarian assistance.
KWAT says that villagers from Hpakant Township's Lai Nawng Khu village, gave "terrifying accounts of how 152 people, including 64 children, were blocked when fleeing through the jungle by Burma Army troops of LIB 424, who then used them as human shields and minesweepers". The testimony describes a series of horrible events for the villagers that began when they first encountered the army on April 13.
KWAT reports that the villagers were compelled by Burmese troops to hike through the jungle to a base where they stayed for four days and then were forced trek back to their village, a journey that resulted in one a villager in the group stepping on a land mine. Upon returning to their village, the civilians stayed in a church for 17 days, "while the troops stayed in their homes, looting their food and property, and wearing villagers’ clothes to ward off KIA attacks". When they were eventually released following large demonstrations by activists in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, the villagers were told by Burma Army personnel they could not stay in IDP camps and had to remain in their village which had been “cleaned” of forces from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
KWAT also reports that in Danai Township, some 2,000 civilians from Awng Lawt village and the surrounding area were forced to flee their homes on April 11, when 105 mm shells were fired from the Danai Regional Operations Command (20 kilometers to the west). In addition to the shelling two jets also carried out air strikes in the area.
KWAT says that on April 11 the shelling killed two civilians, Mr. Kayin La and Mr. Npawp Naw Ring, and also caused an elderly man, Mr. Npawp Yaw Han, who is Mr. Npawp Naw Ring's father to be injured in the leg when he and son were tending to their livestock.
The shelling and airstrikes occurred as troops from Battalions 86, 238, 318 and 101 took control of the area which is officially in the "world's largest tiger reserve". The reserve was established during the period of the previous military regime with the assistance of the self-described "Indiana Jones" of tiger conservation Dr. Alan Rabinowitz.
Some of the villagers were able to get away, but according to KWAT about 130 people, mostly elderly and disabled, remain in the jungle unable to escape.
According to KWAT in Injangyang Township, many army reinforcements from Infantry Divisions 33 and 88 arrived in the area on April 24, and two days later launched an offensive, which resulted in 600 villages from the area being prevented escaping south to Myitkyina. The displaced villagers had to take shelter in churches in Injangyang town. Community leaders have met with army officials to negotiate for the villagers to be allowed to leave but there remains as of May 13, 617 villagers trapped in Injangyang town.
KWAT said in its report that it calls on the international community to "publicly condemn the Burma Army offensives and war crimes against the ethnic peoples". KWAT also calls on foreign governments to "provide humanitarian aid cross-border to displaced communities in the ethnic conflict zones".
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