An elderly Kachin woman looks for shelter after fleeing fighting between Myanmar's army and Kachin rebels in December 2011. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
An elderly Kachin woman looks for shelter after fleeing fighting between Myanmar’s army and Kachin rebels in December 2011. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

More than 400 villages have been damaged or destroyed and 150,000 people displaced since the collapse of a ceasefire in 2011 between Myanmar’s army and rebels in northern Kachin state, reports Catholic website AsiaNews.

In 2018 alone, 50 villages were abandoned and more than 7,000 people fled their homes, seeking refuge in local churches, with host families or relatives, or in official camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

Many people have been killed or injured by landmines – 13 people died this year and 39 suffered serious injuries since fighting escalated in January this year – according to the charity Caritas Myanmar.

Of those displaced since the collapse of the 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar government, 130,000 live in the 165 IDP camps dotted all over Kachin and across the north of neighbouring Shan state.

Furthermore, 311 churches, 24 Buddhist monasteries, 34 childcare centres, 122 schools, and 264 outpatient clinics have been destroyed, Caritas Myanmar says.

Two weeks ago a Catholic church in Kamaing Kawng Ra village was hit by military fire, leaving bullet holes in the walls and an unexploded shell in the church compound. A toddler was wounded after a second shell exploded near her home, sending shrapnel fragments through the bamboo walls, Catholic news site UCAN reported.

About 300 Catholics from the village, and some 45 IDPs who fled their homes a month ago, are staying in a hall near the church compound, according to UCAN.

‘Invisible war’

The violence against the minority Christian population in Kachin “is an invisible war”, San Htoi, the joint secretary of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper in May. She said that on a recent visit, representatives of the United Nations Security Council went only to Rakhine state and “left the country without knowing [about Kachin]”.

The new UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, started her visit to the country yesterday (12 June), where she will discuss the Rohingya refugee crisis with officials and meet with civil society groups, religious leaders and members of the diplomatic community.

The International Criminal Court has been called upon to investigate the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims, after the government was accused of genocide. And human rights activist Ewelina Ochab says “decisive” action is needed to prevent further crimes against humanity.

“First, they [the government] came for the Rohingya Muslims… then they came for the Christian minorities, and little will change if there will be no decisive steps to address the situation,” she wrote. Then they will come for all other minorities in Burma, and so our humanity will suffer yet another blow.”