At least seven people have been wounded by landmines in northern Shan State in October, according to local residents, who said the devices posed a serious threat to their livelihoods, as well as their lives.
The incidents followed the deaths of three people and the wounding of seven in landmine blasts in the area in September, according to the Lashio-based Halo Trust.
Lway Ai Aww, a Halo Trust manager based in Lashio, told The Irrawaddy today that the seven landmine victims were from Namsan, Namkham, and Kyaukme townships.
The latest blasts occurred in areas where her organization’s members could not travel to educate locals about landmines due to a lack of security, she said.
Halo Trust is a U.K.-based non-governmental organization that helps landmine victims in Kachin, Shan, and Karen states.
Four landmine blasts occurred in Namsan Township this month, local people said. According to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), all of the mines were planted by the Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw, on public routes.
In the first incident, U Aike Nome and his wife were walking to his job on a tea plantation when he stepped on a landmine and injured his leg in Namsan Township on Oct. 18; in the second incident, a man from Namkham Township suffered serious injuries to both legs and one hand when he stepped on a mine while walking to a farm. He was treated at Namkham Hospital, according to local people; in the third blast, a couple were traveling in Namsan Township by motorbike on Oct. 24 when a landmine exploded, injuring the woman’s right leg; in the fourth, U Aike Lawy, 65, suffered injuries to his leg and hand when he struck a landmine in Namsan Township while on his way home after taking a girl to school at 8 a.m. on Oct. 27.
Recently, northern Shan State has seen frequent clashes between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) including the TNLA, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). However, clashes frequently erupt between the EAOs themselves, often between the TNLA, SSPP and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), especially in Namtu Township.
Determining who planted particular landmines can be difficult due the number of armed groups based in northern Shan. The Myanmar Army and ethnic rebel groups use landmines to target their enemies, but always deny it when accused by local people.
Landmines threaten the livelihoods of local people in northern Shan State, according to Lower House lawmaker Mai Win Htoo of the Ta’ang National Party.
“Many people are too afraid of landmines to go and work on the tea plantations,” said Mai Win Htoo, whose constituency is in Namsan Township.
He said the landmines that exploded recently were planted on public roads, not in areas considered conflict zones.
The government failed to educate local people about landmines, and NGOs were the only ones doing so, he said.
“It is the dry season, and many local people in Namsan go to harvest tea on the plantations,” said Mai Win Htoo. “They are afraid of landmines, but they have no food to eat, so they have to go and work at the plantations despite the danger.”
With more and more local people being wounded from landmines, the TNLA issued a statement on Oct. 26 alerting ethnic Ta’ang to be careful while traveling, as many Myanmar Army troops have been deployed to TNLA-controlled areas.
In the statement, the TNLA accused the Myanmar Army of deliberately targeting local travelers with landmines in order to create mistrust between local ethnic Ta’ang and the TNLA.
The Myanmar Army recently launched a military offensive in TNLA-controlled areas. According to the TNLA statement, the Tatmadaw has deployed not only battalions, but whole infantry divisions including Nos. 11, 66, 77,88 and 99. The Tatmadaw has even deployed some battalions from its Mandalay-based Central Command in the areas, the EAO said.
The Myanmar Army has shelled villages in an effort to drive residents out of the area, and targeted civilians with landmines, according to the TNLA.
The statement advised all people to be careful when traveling, warning that the Myanmar Army typically planted landmines near its bases and areas through which it traveled.
There were 119 landmine explosions in Myanmar last year, killing 52 people and injuring 124, according to Halo Trust. Of the 119 explosions, 45 occurred in Shan State, killing 22 people and injuring 54.
This year, from January through May, there have already been 127 landmine explosions, which have killed 23 people and injured 136. Forty-nine of the explosions were in Shan, killing nine and injuring 49.