Thousands of people who fled their homes in southern Kachin State in early April due to heavy fighting between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have taken shelter in the town of Momauk, yet this area is also experiencing escalating clashes, placing everyone in the area under threat.
At least four new camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been set up within monastery and church compounds, but the new arrivals have not been able to secure sufficient food or access to healthcare, locals told Myanmar Now.
“As far as I know more than 3,000 IDPs have arrived in Momauk. We have only been able to set them up with basic accommodation,” a source familiar with the situation told Myanmar Now. “We could buy bamboo but we don’t have enough manpower to build something quickly. So they’re now just sleeping on the ground with tarpaulin sheets for a roof.”
“They can’t sleep like this when the monsoon arrives. There will be a lot of mud. Even now there is heavy rain,” she added.
Renewed clashes broke out in Kachin State in March after the junta, which seized power in a coup on February 1, killed two protesters in the state capital of Myitkyina. Fighting has since intensified between the KIA and the military’s 77th Light Infantry Division in Momauk, with the Tatmadaw launching a number of airstrikes and ground offensives in an effort to reclaim bases seized by the KIA.
“There is gunfire everyday in Momauk Township. There were also bombings in the city. It is not peaceful. People are shaken,” the source said.
Villages in Momauk Township that had been spared from past military offensives have also had to evacuate because of the use of heavy artillery by the junta’s armed forces.
“There is gunfire everyday in Momauk Township. There were also bombings in the city. It is not peaceful. People are shaken.”
The source who spoke to Myanmar Now said that the Myanmar military is using more heavy weapons in the area than they did in 2011, when a ceasefire with the KIA broke down.
“Before, the military did not fire cannons. This is not the case now,” she said. “Houses have been burned. People were hit. All the buffaloes, pigs and cows were hit.”
Unable to return to their farms to harvest their crops or gather food stocks, the IDPs are facing the threat of long-term food insecurity, she added.
“People in the area are farmers, so in the past, even if they had to flee, they went back and harvested their own rice, so that they did not place a big burden on the residents of the town where they were staying. Now they can not carry anything with them,” she explained.
On Saturday, some IDPs staying in Momauk ventured out to gather bamboo shoots to eat, and a man reportedly stepped on a landmine and lost his leg.
“There are no human rights groups or organisations that are working now on demining. There was one called ICRC,” the source said, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross. “But none of those groups are here now. There is no one to help [the IDPs].”
Access to medical treatment has been difficult for Momauk’s IDPs and locals, as many doctors and nurses have had to go into hiding for participating in the Civil Disobedience Movement.
“People are traumatised and very afraid of the junta. We do not know how long the war will last. Almost every house has now dug bunkers.”
The source close to the IDPs said that recently a pregnant woman in the town began experiencing bleeding, but even without healthcare services available in Momauk, she and her husband were too afraid to make the trip to Bhamo Hospital.
“They were scared they would be arrested and kept waiting until she was 10 days past her due date,” she said.
She added that the only outside aid supplies to reach the area are from local organisations that are forced to “deliver in secret” because of the risk of being caught by the military council.
“People are traumatised and very afraid of the junta. We do not know how long the war will last. Almost every house has now dug bunkers,” she said.