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01/15/2019 Myanmar (International Christian Concern) – This last Christmas, thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Myanmar’s Christian-majority Kachin State were able to celebrate Jesus’ birthday peacefully as the sound of gunfire was absent in the conflict-stricken region.

Kachin IDPs were concerned about possible outbreak of violence as the fighting between armed militia and government forces has become a seasonal tradition around this time of the year as they all gather to celebrate.

According to UCA News, Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw in Kachin, the country’s northernmost state that shares a border with China, recently visited three parishes in Banmaw Diocese including six IDP camps near Laiza, also on the Chinese border.

“It has been a very peaceful Christmas, with many people attending Mass and celebrating without worry,” he said. “I encourage these displaced people not to lose hope and to have patience when thinking about their future. I asked them to keep praying for peace. Many are keen to return to their home and we support this in certain areas that are deemed safe,” he added.

The church’s charity arm, Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar has been stepping up its resettlement plan for IDPs in Kachin and Shan states as many people have been living in the camps for more than seven years. Burmese army has reportedly blocked

much needed aid delivered by church groups and relief organizations for Kachin refugees.Rev. Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said the return of the IDPs hinges on the progress made in peace talks between the military and the KIA. Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina also told UCA News, “All stakeholders — the government, military, ethnic armed groups and church leaders — need to work together for the safe return of the IDPs.”

More than 120,000 people have fled to 179 camps in Kachin and Shan state after renewed fighting erupted in 2011 following the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire.

Most of Kachin’s 1.7-million population identify as Christian, including 116,000 Catholics.

For interviews with Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].