Hundreds of displaced persons in Kachin State, northern Burma, are under pressure by the Burmese army to go home despite the ongoing conflict in the area, according to aid workers.
La Sang, a coordinator at the Lagat Yang camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), said that a battalion stationed near the camp in Bhamo District claims that they are too close to the Burmese army base near Panhkam.
“We would really like to go home, too, but it isn’t possible right now,” he said. “Fighting is still taking place near our villages, and there are military units operating in the area.”
The commander of the battalion reportedly met with camp officials on Sunday, when he asked for a hard departure date and offered to assist evacuation of the area. The IDPs were told that their villages were safe, and that assistance to travel and rebuild their homes would be provided by the central government.
La Sang said the commander suggested that some of the IDPs be resettled in another camp in nearby Man Win Gyi, which aid workers insist is not a viable option, as weeks of renewed fighting have caused an influx of new arrivals to that location, as well.
Mary Tawm, coordinator of the local aid group Wunpawng Ninghtoi, said the IDPs in Lagat Yang are frequently subject to harassment and coercion by Burmese soldiers.
“The [soldiers] have been showing up in the camp in their uniforms almost every night ‘to count the number of people’,” she said. “Some were too afraid to open the door for them, and were threatened that their names would be removed from the camp’s registrar.”
Approximately 227 families — about 800 people — had been living in the Lagat Yang IDP camp since fighting broke out between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army in Mansi Township in November 2013.
Last year’s conflict caused thousands to flee the Nam Lin Pa IDP camp and nearby villages, hundreds settling at Lagat Yang.
In early April of this year, additional installment of Burmese troops in the area — assigned to accompany census enumerators — eventually led to territorial conflicts. Several sources have reported that frontline shellfire landed within the camp’s boundaries, causing many of the refugees to flee again.
Some fled to nearby Man Win Gyi, while many made a run for the Chinese border. Of those, many have since returned to the Lagat Yang camp. Several hundred IDPs remain in Lagat Yang, originating from various villages and other refugee camps in Bhamo District.