In one northern Shan State township fresh waves of displacement are being driven by a looming threat of heavy artillery, while nearby, thousands of IDPs have returned home to find structures razed and property destroyed.
Ongoing fighting in the northern tip of the state has taken a heavy toll on civilians, no less so in the Pan Lon village track of Namtu township where villagers, displaced over last month, returned this week to find still smoldering destruction. Most of the village’s houses bear scars of recent fighting, with metal roofs pierced with dozens of bullet holes, fences trampled down, and a monastery destroyed. At least one house was burned down, with only the foundation pillars still standing, according to organisations supporting the Namtu IDPs.
“When they returned home this week, [the Pan Lon village tract] residents found damaged properties and homes,” said Sai Ba Nyan, an IDP camp leader.
Namtu Shan Youth leader Sai Mong, who has been assisting IDPs in the area, described damage as not being severe for most homes, but pervasive in terms of how many structure incurred minor damages.
“One Shan monastery was destroyed by heavy weapons fire. Most of the houses have roofs that have been shot through by bullets, and one house was burnt,” he said.
Nang Kham Aye, A Pyithu Hluttaw MP, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that she had asked the returned villagers to assemble a list of the damages sustained during the recent round of fighting. The cataloguing is still underway.
Around 3000 IDPs had fled the village tract after fighting flared between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Tatmadaw during the first week of December, he said. The villagers took to shelters in downtown Namtu township, as well as in nearby Hsipaw and Lashio townships.
Their displacement put additional strain on area shelters already at capacity with over 1200 IDPs driven from their homes since June.
“We were not able to support [the new IDPs] or help them reestablish their damaged homes and livelihoods. We are already struggling to support 1200 old IDPs who are in need of accommodation,” said Sai Ba Nyan.
Shan State MPs are calling for donations to help fund urgent shelter for people displaced by conflict in the state, especially the 1200 driven from their homes more than six months ago and in need of more long-term arrangements.
Nang Kham Aye added that after she visited the IDPs camps yesterday she became even more aware of the acute needs.
“The IDPs told me they need flooring urgently. Some were using cardboard as floors and plastic as roof covers. They have been living like this for six months already,” she said.
In addition to struggles with shelter, villagers and IDPs relocated to Namtu live in fear of landmines. On December 29, a 78-year-old villager was badly injured in a mine blast that occurred while he was picking vegetables in his backyard, according to Nang Kham Aye. He was sent to a military hospital in Lasio for treatment.
While Pan Lon villagers start to reassemble their lives upon returning home, in nearby by Kutkai township families are abandoning their houses after reportedly receiving a warning.
Kutkai Chuch has taken in villagers from four area villages, according to Pastor U Gun Mai.
‘’More villagers arrived seeking refuge on January 2. Two of the villages were advised to relocate by the military, and in another two villages some people fled because they were frightened of clashes in the area,” he said.
Kutkai Administrator U Kyaw Lwin said, “According to the list we received, in total there are just over 180 villagers taking refuge in Kutkai shelters. We are planning on supporting them as much as we can, and will provide for basic needs such as rice and oil.”
He added that the relocations began on December 20, two days after the Tatmadaw had warned villagers that fighting with the Northern Alliance, a coalition of ethnic armed groups, was approaching, and currently just two miles away.
“On December 19, we discussed with the military commander that the military could not constitutionally order the evacuation according to the 2008 constitution. So there was no official order in place, but villagers who were afraid of the conflict fled,” U Kyaw Lwin said.
Ma Mai Mai, a Kachin youth leader from Kutkai, said after word of the Tatmadaw’s advice to relocate, the villagers “did not dare to stay there anymore”.
Local organisations are calling on donors to help support the IDPs, and are asking for humanitarian aid.
CSOs call for the support to the IDPs and the safety of the locals. Humanitarian aid is needed for the IDPs. According to a December report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) about 218,000 people are sheltering in temporary camps in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.