Thousands flee fresh clashes in northern Myanmar: UN

YANGON • Thousands of people have fled renewed fighting between Myanmar's army and ethnic insurgents in the country's remote north, a United Nations official said, as a long-simmering conflict intensifies.

More than 4,000 people have been displaced in the country's northern-most state of Kachin, near the border with China, in the last three weeks, Mr Mark Cutts, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said on Friday.

The numbers do not include some 15,000 people who have fled since the beginning of the year, and upwards of 90,000 residing in camps for internally displaced persons in both Kachin and Shan states since a ceasefire between the government and the powerful Kachin Independence Army broke down in 2011.

"We have received reports from local organisations saying that there are still many civilians who remain trapped in conflict-affected areas," Mr Cutts said. "Our biggest concern is for the safety of civilians - including pregnant women, the elderly, small children and people with disabilities. We must ensure that these people are protected."

Ocha has been unable to verify reports that civilians have been killed in the fighting. A Myanmar government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

In addition to the Rohingya Muslim crisis in the western part of mainly Buddhist Myanmar, the country's conflict-hit north has also played host to clashes involving other ethnic minorities. The Kachin, who mostly live in the country's state of the same name, make up some of the more than 6 per cent of Christians in Myanmar, the second-largest religious group after Buddhists, according to census figures.

Myanmar's border areas have been unstable since the country's independence from British colonial rule in 1948, hosting an array of insurgencies, local militias and drug-running operations.

The country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had said making peace was her priority when she took office in 2016 but progress has been slow. Ethnic armed groups are demanding more autonomy and control from a country in which the Burmese hold major positions of power.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Thousands flee fresh clashes in northern Myanmar: UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe