Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Widespread of Armed Conflict and The Dangers of Landmines

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“I passed out after the explosion, and I did not know how long I was unconscious. After I woke up, I still felt dizzy. My sister was beside me and she was still unconscious, and I woke her up – she was covered with lots of blood,” Nang Mo Khao narrated her story on the day she stepped on the landmine.

Nang Mo Khao and her sister stepped on a landmine on 12 February 2022 in Lawksawk township Southern Shan State
Nang Mo Khao and her sister stepped on a landmine on 12 February 2022 in Lawksawk township Southern Shan State

Nang Mo Khao and her sister stepped on a landmine on 12 February 2022 in Lawksawk township, Southern Shan State. 

The two sisters were shocked and feared the mine explosion because no such incident occurred in the past in Lawksawk township, Southern Shan State.

On the incident day, the younger sister, who lives in Nong Woe village, Kyauk Gu tract, Lawksauk township, went to pick up her elder sister who lives in Pan Hai village, and they stepped on the mine on their way back. They were unconscious and injured badly.

The place where the landmine exploded was around the area where the Northern Alliance forces and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS/SSA) had an intense gunfight.

During the clash, apart from the artillery shelling and gun fires, landmines were also set up. After the fight, the landmines were life-threatening trouble for the local residents.

“It happened not so long after the clash. In the past, we have been traveling this route without any issue. I did not know that they would set up landmines. So, I used the same route as usual – it was not a problem on my way there, but it exploded on my way back,” Nang Kyar U, the victim of the land mine, told SHAN.

The two sisters, Nang Kyar U and Nang Mo Khao, were riding a motorcycle between Nong Woe village and Kone Thar village, Lawksauk township, when they stepped on the landmine installed by the armed forces.

Even though clashes occurred in that area, villagers are not informed to avoid using the risky roads after the clashes.

Because of the mine explosion, Nang Mo Khao injured her hips and waist, and her younger sister Nang Kyar U secured more injuries – her hips and upper right thigh to knee are badly damaged by the explosion.

During February 2022, apart from the landmine explosion damage, the residents’ homes and monasteries were also damaged because of the heavy gun fighting between the armed groups in Kyauk Gu village, Lawksuak township.

The residents have never seen armed conflicts around the areas, and they were shocked to see such gun fights occurring.

“I am really scared because I have never seen such clashes since I was born. I am now 28 years old, and I have never experienced such gun fights. I was so scared that I stayed in my house, and hid quietly. I did not dare to look outside – too shocked to do so,” Sai Aung narrated his experience of hiding in his home quietly when the clashes occurred.

Around the end of February 2022, another motorcycle shopkeeper stepped on another landmine around the area where the two sisters experienced the explosion.

Sai Kham 27 years old youth leader Pan Khar village Kyuak Gu tract was killed on the spot by a landmine explosion
Sai Kham 27 years old youth leader Pan Khar village Kyuak Gu tract was killed on the spot by a landmine explosion

Moreover, Sai Kham, a 27 years old youth leader, who lives in Pan Khar village, Kyuak Gu tract was killed on the spot by a landmine explosion during March 2022.

The residents have never heard of armed conflicts and landmine explosions in Lawksuak township in the past; however, it has been a concern starting from early 2022.

Clashes also occurred in Kesi (Kyethi) and Mongkung township starting in June 2021, and some locals got killed and injured by the landmines in those areas.

Due to the clashes of the armed groups, the Mongkung residents are worried about the danger of the landmines left by them, and it would affect the traveling routes and their daily activities.

“When it happened, every armed group denied that it’s not them. There is no compensation for any loss because of the landmines. There are people at the hospital because they step on the landmines these days. Those who planted the landmines might already forget their locations because those who have never been in the jungle sometimes get lost,” a Mongkung resident anonymously told SHAN due to the security concern.

Since June 2021, there have been many gun fights between the ethnic armed groups along the Loi Hun mountain and at least two locals stepped on the landmines and injured themselves.

The clashes have not been reduced; instead, they have expanded into Mongkung township. At least four locals have been killed and seven have been severely injured by the landmines in the Mongkung township area.

There are some unreachable areas where the locals are affected by the landmines but the data could not be collected.

Mong Kung man stepping landmine
Mong Kung man stepping landmine

Due to the occasional landmine explosions and injuries, the residents are requesting the armed groups to come and clear those landmines.

“Farming is difficult now because locals are afraid to go to their farms. Currently the government electricity is being cut everyday, and firewood cannot be collected because of the fear of landmines. So, whichever armed groups planted these landmines, please come and clear them,” a man who lives in Pang Kay Thu, Mongkung township anonymously told SHAN.

Regarding the landmines being installed by the ethnic armed groups during their clashes and if they have any plan for the civilians, SHAN has contacted Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS/SSA) spokesperson Major Kham Sam, “Regarding the landmine issue, we do now know yet. It is related to the military operation. We do not know the details of this. Therefore, I do not have any comments on the current landmine issue,” the spokesperson replied. 

Major Kham Sam used to speak about landmines to SHAN late last year that when it comes to landmines, we cannot look at one side only. We have to inspect the location of the explosion and the type of landmines used so that we would know which armed group planted them.

The civilians are anxious about the landmines around the areas where clashes occurred in Kesi and Mongkung township, Southern Shan State. According to Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP/SSA) Major Sai Phone Harn, they will try their best to sort out the issue.

“The current landmine issue in Mongkung and Laikha where locals are afraid to go, to do farming, and so on because of the landmines, those places are not where we planted the mines. However, we will do our best to our knowledge to clear the mines and help the civilians,” quoted by Major Phone Harn.

Even though the international community has banned the use of landmines, Myanmar is one of the countries that still use landmines the most.

According to the data from Landmine Monitor from 2000 to 2020, 5,200 people have been affected by the landmines, and 900 people have lost their lives – most of them are from Shan and Kachin State.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has formed a group to monitor the landmine and since 1999 the group has been making records regarding the landmines in Myanmar. ICBL requested the armed groups in Myanmar to immediately stop planting landmines, and urged that the authorities should make it easier for the organization to provide humanitarian assistance to clear the mines according to the international standard.

Even though there are casualties and live threatening incidents in Southern Shan State because of the landmine, the educational outreach programs are still weak and insufficient regarding the danger of landmines. 

The clashes between the ethnic armed groups are expanding into Laikha and Panglong township from Kesi and Mongkung township. The residents from those areas are worried and anxious about the landmines installed after the clashes.

The future of the landmine victims, Nang Kyar U and Nang Mo Khao, who stepped on the landmine in February this year is very vague.

“The younger sister severely damaged her thigh’s nerves, and it will not function normally. Both of us will not be able to work as usual, and our father is also very old – life would be so hard for us after this. Since we have never experienced such a thing, we are very down hearted now,” Nang Kyar U who is still receiving treatment disappointedly opened up to SHAN.

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