UNICEF: Urgent help needed in Myanmar's Kachin State

GENEVA - Recent fighting between rebels and government forces in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state has forced thousands of people, including around 1,000 children, to leave their temporary homes, UN children's charity said Tuesday.

Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF representative to Myanmar, said in a statement: "The fighting and the associated displacement of families has increased the health risks that children face, including by reducing their access to safe, reliable water and sanitation facilities."

Kachin groups say many in the state resent being divided into 12 official ethnic subcategories by the government -- a practice they say is designed to dilute their ethnic identity and political power.

Fighting between government troops and Kachin rebels has left at least 22 people dead this month in Kachin, according to the statement

"[Children] face a significantly increased risk of falling victim to commonly used landmines and even to possible recruitment into the combatant's armed forces," added the statement, explaining that landmines in Kachin, left behind or placed intentionally, harm vulnerable populations and inhibit humanitarian assistance.

The statement said it is the second or third time the children have been forced to take to the road in the past year.

According to UNICEF, the Myanmar's government has occasionally resorted to aerial bombardment, displacing an estimated 120,000 people, many of whom now live in displacement camps.

Although reports state that the fighting has slowed in the past few days, the situation remains tense.

UNICEF said support is being mobilized, but improved access to affected populations, and particularly children, is needed.

"We must provide urgent help," said Bainvel. "But life-saving aid is not enough because children need peace and stability to grow and develop.

"For the sake of Myanmar's children, all parties must immediately commit to do all they can to end the violence, to protect children from exposure to land mines and recruitment into armed forces, and to commit to peace."

"This is absolutely essential if children in Kachin are to experience the same hope and improved prospects that are now being experienced by so many other children in Myanmar as a result of the recent reforms," added Bainvel.

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