YANGON — Five men were seriously injured after two of them stepped on landmines on Monday morning while collecting firewood in northern Shan State, according to a local priest.
The victims include four ethnic Kachin and a Chinese man, all in their 50s. They are receiving treatment at a local hospital in the border town of Mansi, said Zau Ra, a priest with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in the town of Mong Ko, in Muse District.
Two of the victims stepped on two separate landmines while collecting firewood near a village about two miles from Mong Ko.
“They went to the old Man Jub village to chop firewood. The village was empty, but government troops are deployed there. The soldiers told them not to go beyond the village. But they thought it would be fine, and unfortunately the mines exploded,” Zau Ra told The Irrawaddy.
Three of the five men were injured in the first blast. The other two were injured by the second mine while going to their aid.
Wayawng Zau Kaung, one of the Kachin victims, had both of his legs amputated at the knees. The other four were injured in their legs and abdomens.
All five of the victims had been staying with relatives after their houses were destroyed during armed clashes in 2016. The KBC is covering their medical expenses.
“Most of the locals still can’t go back to their houses because of landmines. Man Jub is a big village. But nobody dares to live there since the clashes. Villagers lost their livelihoods, so they went to the town,” said Zau Ra.
Mong Ko was hit hard when fighting broke out in northern Shan State in November 2016 between the Myanmar Army and an alliance of ethnic armed groups including the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army.
The Myanmar Army claims that more than 100 police, soldiers and allied militia members were killed during the fighting in Mong Ko in November and December of 2016.
Local sources say more than 40 civilians also died in the fighting and that thousands have fled to China.
“We want to go back home, but we dare not because of mines. I have children and I’m really afraid of mines,” said Nang Kham Lao, who fled Mong Ko for another part of Muse after the clashes in 2016.
The government and Myanmar Army reportedly resettled local residents after the fighting subsided in December that year, but locals say it is safe to live in town only because of the persistent danger of landmines and that houses have not yet been rebuilt in surrounding villages.
According to Mong Ko authorities, the town had more than 8,000 residents before the fighting in 2016. Its current population is not known.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.