Three people were killed and four were wounded by a bomb blast in Mann Lee Village, Namtu Township in northern Shan State on Saturday, according to local sources.
Ko Thar Oo, Mann Lee village leader told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the seven victims had been tending crops which are growing on the mountainside at the time of the blast.
“They went to work at [a field] on the mountain [where they] grow food. They left home at 5:30 a.m. They had breakfast at 6 a.m. at a hut in the field. The 15-year-old boy stayed at the hut area and he stepped on the bomb,” said Ko Thar Oo.
The 15-year-old boy who stepped on the landmine is one of the three who died at the scene. The four injured were sent for treatment at Hsipaw Hospital but one person with serious wounds was later transferred to Lashio Hospital.
The area where the landmine exploded was the location of fighting between rival ethnic armed groups the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and the joint forces of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) in early March.
Fearing undetonated devices could remain in the field after the fighting took place on his land, the land owner burnt off the growth before the villagers came back to tend the land.
Ko Thar Oo said the fighting in the area in early March lasted for several days and that no one knows which side planted the landmine as many armed groups have been active in the areas around Mann Lee Village.
“Someone could have come and planted the bomb after the field was burnt. The people thought that they were safe after the area was burnt off. That’s why they came to work at the field,” he said.
Village authorities told the villagers not to work in the fields yet, as fighting has only recently ceased in the area and thus it remains unsafe for locals.
However, locals depend of the food they grow on this land which must be done in time before the rainy season starts in May. Ko Thar Oo said that’s why the locals had to go and work the land despite the warnings.
Armed groups tend not to take responsibility for civilian deaths or injuries that occur in the area as a result of their clashes. Ko Thar Oo said that the civilians are the ones who suffer the most.
“We did not know how we can help our villagers,” he said.
Mann Lee is a village of about 100 households and many villagers have left to find work in China as they feel unsafe working in their own village.
“We cannot [convince] them anymore not to go to China because we cannot provide food for them,” he said.
The TNLA-SSPP forces and the RCSS have blamed each other for the landmine incident. Tai Freedom, a media outlet under the control of the RCSS, reported that the bomb belonged to the TNLA, leading the latter to release a statement on Monday denying that the mine came from their troops.
Youth’s death came a day after his father’s release from RCSS custody
On Friday, the RCSS released eight people who they had been holding in detention since early March during the inter-ethnic conflict in the area.
The father of the 15-year-old landmine victim was among the eight detainees who were released.
A number of civil organizations from both the Ta’ang and Shan ethnic communities worked together to negotiate with the RCSS for the release of the eight people.
Another four people who disappeared early in March, a case which Ta’ang civil groups have blamed on the RCSS, remain missing.