By SAW YAN NAING
While the armed conflict escalates nearby, serious food shortages threaten more than 8,000 villagers across Papun District in northern Karen State.
According to a recent Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) report, at least 8,885 villagers in 118 villages in Lu Thaw Township in Papun District, northern Karen State, have run out of food or will do so before the October 2011 harvest.
The shortfall in food supplies is due to mass displacement of villagers in the region compounded by damage to agriculture caused by unseasonal rains throughout March and April in eastern Burma.
The KHRG reported that the current food crisis in Lu Thaw Township is directly linked to attacks on villagers by Burmese government troops.
“Emergency assistance to villagers facing food shortages should be prioritized and pursued by any actor that wants to promote human rights in eastern Burma,” said KHRG Field Director Saw Albert, whose research team conducted interviews in the affected areas.
“Villagers have told us they want to remain near their homes and land, but many might have to become refugees or try to farm land where they are more vulnerable to attacks,” he said.
“This food crisis is challenging villagers' ability to survive,” said Saw Albert. Saw Steve, a team leader with the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), said that this year's food shortage is more serious than last year's. The problem is compounded by skirmishes and fighting nearby, he said.
Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development (KORD), said that some villagers venture deep into the jungle to hunt and look for food while others travel to other villages to seek work.
The KHRG report said that the impact of the food shortages on the civilian population is magnified by the budgetary constraints of local relief organizations. Because of limited donor support, organizations normally able to access affected areas of eastern Burma are currently unable to provide emergency assistance to all those in acute need, said the report.
Karen relief groups have reported that fighting between the rebel Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and Burmese government forces is continuing on a near-daily basis in northern Karen State close to Papun District.
Meanwhile, in Kawkareik Township in southern Karen State, fighting has escalated between government troops and a breakaway faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), Brigade 5, not only in frontier areas but also in towns and villages, according to Karen rebel sources.