RANGOON — A landmine exploded outside a school in Kachin State on Saturday, injuring three people including two young students. No casualties have been reported.
Police are still investigating the incident, which followed a week of tension between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in several villages near the state’s jade-rich Hpakant.
Saturday’s explosion took place in Kan See village of Lone Khinn Township, just north of Hpakant, where Burma Army soldiers have reportedly frightened villagers with an order to evacuate, claiming that armed conflict was imminent.
Neither the Burma Army nor the KIA has admitted to placing the ordnance in the schoolyard, though many locals believe that Burmese soldiers were responsible.
Eight-year-old Laphai La, Larmai Sengpan,18, and Khamai Zaw Khun, 22, suffered severe leg injuries and are now recovering in a hospital in Hpakant.
“The youngest victim, who is eight, was seriously injured and can’t walk yet. He had a minor operation and is getting better,” a duty officer from the township police station told The Irrawaddy.
Last week, Burmese soldiers reportedly ordered about 1,000 villagers to leave their homes to avoid conflict that could break out between government and rebel troops following disputes about taxation. Rebel soldiers were also ordered to leave the area.
Most villagers did not evacuate and the KIA refused to leave their posts. The Burma Army then issued warnings in several villages that locals are not permitted to travel from one village to another.
Local sources claimed that they had been stopped, searched and harassed by government troops while making trips between their village and the local market.
“They [the Burma Army] tried to stop everyone who carried a bag. They said we were not allowed to leave. We are afraid that we will be hostages, since we can’t go out,” said La Mai, a resident of Kan See.
Restrictions on movement have caused alarm among villagers, who now fear for their food security because they rely on vendors who transport food in bulk from rural marketplaces.
“Vendors are no longer coming to our village,” said Zaw Mai, another civilian who lives in Kan See. “They heard the news and they are afraid that battles will break out. We can’t even go out to Lone Khinn market because we would need bags and baskets to carry back the food.”
Villagers said that the KIA has assured them they will not participate in active conflict, but the presence of fully armed soldiers from both sides has sparked fear nonetheless.
Fighting erupted between government forces and the KIA in mid-2011 with the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides. Intermittent conflict has since displaced upwards of 100,000 civilians, many of whom still live in isolated camps. Peace negotiations have been ongoing since violence subsided in early 2013, though sporadic conflict continues.
A local member of Burma’s leading opposition party, the National League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy last week that conditions were calm in areas near Hpakant, but that the Burma Army had deployed soldiers along a main roadway connecting the town with the state capital Myitkyina. He added that KIA troops remained stationed on the opposite side of the Uru River, where the two sides were within each other’s line of vision.
The central government has come under recent criticism for what has been perceived as a series of offensives against ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Karen, Mon and Shan states. The country’s main ethnic coalition, the United Nationalities Federal Council, warned last Wednesday that attacks against minorities risks undermining Burma’s precarious progress toward reaching a nationwide peace agreement.