By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News
An estimated 4,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently hiding in the jungle near Hpasawng Township, about 94 kilometers south of the Karenni State capital Loikaw, according to a Karenni relief group.
Daniel, a coordinator for the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Center (KSWDC), which provides aid to Karenni IDPs, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the villagers had fled their homes fearing attacks by the Burmese army.
“More than 4,000 Karenni IDPs are now hiding in Hpasawng Township,” said Daniel, who uses only one name. “It will be very difficult for them if they have to stay in the jungle for a long time.”
The Burmese army’s Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 427, 428 and 337 patrol the area around Hpasawng and have clashed with Karenni rebels in the area six times so far this year, according to local sources.
Some of the Karenni IDPs want to move to the Thai-Burmese border, but they fear possible attacks by Burmese troops along the way, said Daniel.
Poe Byar Shay Reh, chairman of the Karenni Refugee Committee, said that more than 160 IDPs have arrived at Karenni refugee camps in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province since the beginning of 2008.
He said, however, that so far, none of the IDPs currently hiding in the jungle have reached the refugee camps.
“None of them have arrived at the refugee camps, but we don’t know if they’ll start coming later,” said Poe Byar Shay Reh.
He added that some of the Karenni IDPs now sheltering in the refugee camps had fled their villages after being accused by the Burmese army and the ceasefire Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front of supporting the anti-government Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP).
The KNPP signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma’s ruling junta in 1995, but the truce broke down after just three months when Burmese troops deployed on KNPP territory.
There have been several failed attempts since then to restart talks, most recently in late 2004. However, the junta suspended all contact with the group following the ouster of Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, who had masterminded a number of ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebel groups.
Burmese military operations forced around 6,000 Karenni villagers to become IDPs in 2007, according to a survey conducted by KSWDC.
More than 20,000 Karenni refugees are staying in two camps in Mae Hong Son Province, according to the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium and the Karenni Refugee Committee.