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An investigation by British-based Sky News, found that thousands of Kachin civilians, many of them Christians, are trapped in the jungles of northern Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), after fleeing heavy artillery bombing by government forces. “I am convinced the Burmese government is trying to ethnically cleanse the Kachin people,” Lashi Okawn Ja, a Kachin Christian mother told Sky News. “Whenever they see Kachin people they try to kill us and they rape the women, even the women who are pregnant.”

For centuries, Kachin Christians, who number about 1.6 million, have lived in the northern mountains of Myanmar close to China and India. Though poor and isolated, the region is rich in mineral resources like jade and amber. Since the early 1960s, the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, has been fighting Myanmar’s government for the right to self-govern their own territory. After a 17-year lull in the fighting, the KIA resumed their insurgency in 2011. According to reports, more than 700,000 people have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries in what the United Nations has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

“What we are seeing in Kachin State is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” Yanghee Lee, the UN expert on Myanmar said. “Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives. Experts say the military attacks by predominately Buddhist soldiers against Kachin Christians is more than just about religion. It’s a war over natural resources. Whoever has control of the state also has access to the profits from the sale of jade. “Today ethnic people are just seeking to protect their land and trying to share human rights together,” Ja Seng Hkawn Maran, a Kachin parliamentarian said. The fighting has forced thousands of Kachin Christians like U Thein Soe into internally displaced camps scattered throughout the state.

“In my opinion, the war will stop when one side totally disappears,” U Thein Soe said recently. “At first I didn’t have plans to leave. But all my friends and neighbours started to move. About 80% fled to China and the rest decided to move to Myitkyina. Now my village is like a scene from a horror movie.” In April, some 2000 Kachin Christians trapped in the jungles, found themselves in desperate need of medical attention after fleeing clashes between Myanmar’s military and Kachin guerrillas.

“In early April, thousands of civilians were unable to leave conflict-affected areas in Kachin State, trapped in the middle of clashes without enough food or secure shelters after more vicious attacks by the military,” said May Save Phya, a human rights activist from Burma. “More than 60% of the trapped civilians are women and children.” According to Sky News, the military attacks against Christians are often random and indiscriminate, primarily using heavy artillery, helicopters and fighter jets. “Maybe their actions against us are not so sudden as their violence against the Rohingya, but their intentions are just the same,” warned Sumlut Gunmaw, vice president of the Kachin Independence Council General. “They want to eliminate us.”

Roughly half of Kachin state’s residents are Baptists and in recent weeks church leaders have criticized Myanmar’s defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi of not doing enough to stop the violence. Baptist and Catholic churches throughout the state are doubling up as shelters for fleeing civilians.

Source: Sky News UK