On 27 March, Myanmar Red Cross volunteer Moe Kyaw Than passed away 38 days after he had been gravely injured when a Red Cross convoy he was travelling with was attacked in Northern Shan State, Myanmar. The convoy was transporting people displaced by the Kokang armed conflict. 45 year-old Moe Kyaw Than, who had been a dedicated volunteer since 1999, was shot in the abdomen and was immediately treated in Kunlong and subsequently Lashio and Mandalay Public Hospitals where he underwent surgery for an abdominal bullet wound. Despite immediate and ongoing medical care, he died from his injuries, leaving behind a wife, five children and three step children.
“The Myanmar Red Cross Society is deeply saddened by this tragic death and sends condolences to Moe Kyaw Than’s family. He was a dedicated volunteer working selflessly to help others in his community who were affected by the ongoing conflict.” said Dr. Tha Hla Shwe, President of Myanmar Red Cross Society. “We again call on all parties involved in the fighting to respect the work of the Red Cross and guarantee the safety of our aid workers and their unimpeded, immediate access to people in need of humanitarian assistance. Moe Kyaw Than’s death would not have happened if this access had been respected”.
While Moe Kyaw Than was in hospital, he recounted to colleagues from the Red Cross the events that took place on the day of the attack.
“There was no other way for displaced people to flee the fighting, no other buses or transportation. It was up to us volunteers to help. Along the evacuation route, small battles were taking place which made it hard to travel. Sometimes we had to wait and see if we could continue the journey. Eventually we make it to Laukkai at around 1:30 in the afternoon.”
Without time to rest after the long journey, the Red Cross volunteers picked up over 500 displaced people and took them as far as they could towards safety.
“When we come down from Laukkai it was nearly three o’clock. We ran into the fighting when we got close to Par Sin Kyaw and we had to wait for nearly an hour before continuing. Then we were attacked and fired on for four or five minutes,” recalled Moe Kyaw Than.
The first vehicle, that he was leading, became a major target and the wind shield was shattered with gunfire. The driver’s right eye was injured from the flying glass.
“I knew that my abdomen was hit and that my driver was also hit in the eye,” Moe Kyaw Than explained. “I was afraid and frightened when I was fired on, but I was still aware of what was going on around me.”
Moe Kyaw Than and another volunteer managed to disembark from the vehicle.
“I asked my younger colleague whether the passengers were safe and he replied that they were but they couldn’t leave the truck for fear that they might be attacked. The reason I was there was to help these people. I did not want them to get in more trouble. The next thing I knew, I was on the road and lying in the sun. My colleagues moved me to the shade. I could have died if I had remained under the beating sun. A vehicle came to pick us up at about four o’clock. They sent me to Kunlong Hospital where I was treated,” he said calmly.
Moe Kyaw Than maintained a strong humanitarian spirit until the end. Despite knowing that he was seriously wounded, he insisted that he would continue to help others as soon as he had recovered. Although he never had the chance to do this, his words are an inspiration to others.
“We as the Red Cross have to help all sorts of victims. We are also mortal. We must die someday and somewhere whoever we are. I have to do whatever I can before I die. I’ll continue my humanitarian work until the end.”
Myanmar Red Cross continues to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Northern Shan, with hundreds of volunteers like Moe Kyaw Than helping civilians displaced by the conflict. To date over 10,000 civilians have received assistance from the Red Cross.
“Such tragedies cast a sharp spotlight on the responsibilities that Red Cross volunteers sometimes carry in their work”, said Jagan Chapagain, Asia Pacific Director with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “The balance between safeguarding life and carrying out humanitarian service is sometimes a difficult one to strike. In this case, it is tragic that a life was lost.”