A civilian lost part of her leg and sustained facial injuries in a landmine blast in western Myanmar’s war-ravaged Rakhine state on Monday, the woman’s brother said, as unexploded ordnance from a two-year-long armed conflict continues to maim or kill villagers in war zones.
The incident occurred amid a nearly two-month lull in fighting between the Myanmar military and the rebel Arakan Army (AA), which seeks greater autonomy for ethnic Rakhine people in the state. The two sides agreed to refrain from clashes so that elections could be held in several Rakhine townships excluded from November’s nationwide elections for security reasons.
Khin San May, 43, of Ouk Khabaw village in Kyauktaw township, stepped on the landmine while gathering firewood in the mountains near the community, said her younger brother Kyaw Hla Htay.
“She stepped on a landmine, and it exploded,” he told RFA, adding that another sister who was with Khin San May had to carry her back to the village. The woman first was taken to Kyauktaw Hospital, but later transferred to Sittwe General Hospital in the state capital.
Myanmar forces and the AA had an armed clash in the area in March 2020, though Kyaw Hla Htay said that no one knows who planted the landmine that injured his sister.
Since the beginning of the current conflict through November 2020, three dozen villagers lost their lives to landmine explosions in northern Rakhine state and in adjacent Paletwa township of neighboring Chin state, while 77 others were wounded, according to an RFA tally. Some of the casualties occurred when civilians found unexploded ordnance and tried to dismantle it.
Villagers cannot avoid the danger posed by landmines left by both armies because they must go outside their communities for firewood and other necessities, local administrators said. They also pointed out that there are no serious efforts to educate locals about landmines and unexploded ordnance or to demine conflict zones.
Pan Thar, head of Ouk Khabaw village, said residents who eke out a living by hunting for forest products must go into wooded areas despite the risks.
“We warned everyone in the village not to go into the woods or nearby mountains [because] it is possible that there are many landmines in the area,” he said. “But we can hardly blame those who venture out into the woods for a living. If we could conduct an education campaign on the landmines, it would be beneficial for them.”
‘Local civilians lack awareness’
Khine Kaung San, director of Wun Latt Foundation, a local civil society group that conducts education campaigns at internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, agreed that information campaigns could prevent landmine and ordnance explosions that endanger civilian lives.
“Local civilians lack awareness, [and just] educating the people in IDP camps is not enough,” he said. “We frequently see many civilians getting injured by landmine blasts while venturing out near their villages. It’s necessary to conduct education campaigns for residents of all villages located near conflict zones.”
But such programs require support from the government, the military, and international NGOs because local civil society groups have limited programs, Khine Kaung San said.
The Wun Latt Foundation runs a limited number of education programs at IDP camps mainly by distributing informational pamphlets with the assistance of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), an international humanitarian agency based in Denmark.
Rakhine state government spokesman Win Myint said officials are not involved in efforts to inform civilians about the dangers of landmines.
“We aren’t doing any work on the issue,” he said. “Some NGOs are doing landmine education campaigns. The education mainly focuses on warnings not to go to areas with landmine risks. Nobody knows which areas have higher landmine risks.”
When asked about the removal of landmine and unexploded ordnance, he referred RFA to the military, saying that it is not the government’s responsibility.
RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun for comment.
About 300 civilians have died during the two-year-long conflict, while more than 600 others have been injured, and 230,000 people have been displaced.
Myanmar is riddled with mines from the national military’s wars with numerous non-state armies affiliated with ethnic minorities since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948. Border areas with Bangladesh, China, India, and Thailand are heavily mined.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.