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Aid urgently needed for refugees fleeing spreading fighting and "orders to rape" in Kachin State

Over 16,000 refugees fleeing escalating fighting and systematic sexual violence in Kachin State and sheltering in makeshift camps along the China-Burma border are urgently in need of aid, according to the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT).

Since the Burma Army launched attacks on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on June 9, 2011, breaking the 17-year ceasefire, fighting has spread to ten townships in Kachin State and northern Shan State, with systematic torture, killing and rape by Burmese troops.

KWAT has so far documented the rape of 32 women and girls in eight townships during the offensive, thirteen of whom were killed. One young girl was raped and killed in front of her parents. Refugees describe soldiers declaring they have "orders to rape women".

Villagers suspected of supporting the KIA have been tortured severely. Two community leaders had their ears cut off. Another four men were put in sacks, beaten and then drowned in the Shweli River.

Denied refuge in China, terrified villagers are sheltering in camps set up in areas under the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) liberated areas inside Burma. Those unable to come to the border have fled to towns deeper inside Kachin State.

"Our Kachin refugees are trapped. They have no exit," said KWAT spokesperson Shirley Seng. "Local Kachin networks and churches have been helping but it is not enough. International aid is urgently needed."

KWAT is concerned not only for the immediate food and medical needs of the refugees, but for their long-term survival, as they have been forced to abandon their rice fields.

"A humanitarian crisis is looming in Kachin State," said Shirley Seng. "We need concerted international pressure, particularly from China, to force the regime to implement a nationwide ceasefire before it is too late."