YANGON (Reuters) - Thousands of people rallied on Monday in Myanmar’s war-torn Kachin State to demand humanitarian access for villagers trapped by fighting between government forces and ethnic minority insurgents that has displaced more than 5,000 people.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic minority insurgent forces, has regularly clashed with government troops in the mountainous region bordering China and India since 2011, when a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down.
The United Nations said more than 5,000 people have been displaced since fighting in the area escalated in early April.
The KIA and aid workers have called it the most intense conflict since Kachin guerrillas started fighting the government for greater autonomy in the early 1960s.
The fighting has put a spotlight on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s stuttering efforts to bring peace to the diverse, Buddhist-majority country that has seen near-perpetual war since its independence from Britain in 1949.
Pictures posted online of Monday’s march in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina showed demonstrators in traditional dress holding signs reading, “support food immediately to the refugees trapped by fighting,” and calling the military to end its offensives in the area.
“There’s no other way to save them so we decided to protest,” said Zaw Jatt, one of the leaders of the rally, told Reuters by telephone.
Organizers and participants said thousands of people took part in Monday’s march. Reuters could not independently verify that.
Myanmar’s military and civilian government officials did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters for comment.
About 2,000 people have been trapped in a remote forest near the village of Aung Lawt without access to aid for more than two weeks, aid workers say, adding that many are elderly, women and children.
“The villagers trapped amid the conflict must be allowed safe passage to places of refugee and must be provided with timely humanitarian aid as soon as possible,” activists who organized Monday’s protests wrote in a statement.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said some civilians were unable to leave conflict-affected areas and were taking shelter in churches or with host families where they received initial aid from the government and aid groups.
Fighting between government forces and ethnic minority Kachin and other insurgents has been eclipsed in media coverage by the plight of nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since last August.
Reporting By Sam Aung Moon, Yimou Lee and Thu Thu Aung; Editing by Robert Birsel