“I just want my legs back.” Myanmar mine casualties are on the rise


BANGKOK – A 3-year-old boy was only two steps away from his mother’s lap when a deafening explosion was heard. The blast caught the woman in the face, blurring her vision. She forced her eyes open and searched for her son around the shore where they were waiting for the ferry, near their small village in south-central Myanmar.

He spotted her through the smoke. His body lay on the ground, his legs and feet stripped of flesh, his broken bones exposed.

“He was crying and telling me he was in so much pain,” she said. “He didn’t know what happened.”

The boy had set off the mine, an explosive device designed to maim or destroy anything in its path.

Landmines have been banned by most countries for decades since the UN Mine Ban Treaty was adopted in 1997. But in Myanmar, which is not a party to the treaty, the use of landmines has increased since the military seized power from a democratically elected government. February 2021, and the armed resistance has grown dramatically.

Mines have been planted by all sides of the conflict in Myanmar and are responsible for civilian casualties, including an alarming number of children, according to an AP analysis based on data and reports from nonprofit and humanitarian organizations and interviews with civilians. victims, families, local aid workers, expatriates and monitoring groups.

In 2022, UN figures show that civilian casualties from landmines and unexploded ordnance have increased by nearly 40%. Experts say these and other official figures are grossly undercounted, largely because of the difficulties of monitoring and reporting during the conflict.

Despite the incomplete figures, experts agree that Myanmar’s growth is the largest ever recorded.

Virtually no area is safe from danger. According to Landmine Monitor, a group that tracks global landmine use, mine contamination has spread in every state and region except the capital Naypyitaw over the past two years.

The military also uses civilians as human shields, a practice that has been common in the country for decades but has raised alarm with increasing incidents of landmines. An AP analysis found that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, forces people to walk ahead of troops, detonating potential landmines in their path while protecting their own troops.

Myanmar’s military, which has admitted using landmines in the past, did not respond to a list of questions sent to its official spokesman’s email address.

When the fighting goes on, the mines don’t go away. The mines left behind can indiscriminately maim or kill those who stumble upon them years later.

It raises the specter of victims for years to come. In countries including Egypt and Cambodia, people continue to die from millions of landmines that remain long after conflicts have ended.

“Releasing an activated mine like this is like releasing a monster,” said the 26-year-old deserter, who served as a combat engineer platoon commander in Myanmar.

Like many AP interviewees, the defector spoke on condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family from military retaliation.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance have been a persistent problem in Myanmar for more than four decades. The problem has grown exponentially since military takeover, with more landmines being used in more parts of the country, said UN landmine expert Kim Warren.

In 2022, landmines and unexploded ordnance killed 390 people in Myanmar, a 37 percent increase compared to 2021, according to figures compiled by UNICEF. In total, 102 people were killed and 288 were injured, of which children make up about 34% of the victims, compared to 26% in 2021.

However, Warren said the incidents are underreported.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, an expert on landmine monitoring in Myanmar, says his group only counts casualties, which he can confirm.

Experts admit that the total death toll may seem small for Myanmar’s population of about 56 million, but say the rapid increase is nonetheless worrying. Experts are particularly concerned about child victims. Many people do not know how deadly mines and unexploded ordnance are. some pick them up and play with them.

Many civilian casualties encounter landmines during their daily routine.

In March 2021, two teenage cousins ​​were working on a small family plot in Shan State. They had just gone to dig sweet potatoes when the father of one of the boys heard an explosion. He rushed to help, but was too late. They were killed instantly. They had set off a mine.

The 47-year-old father is in tears when he returns to the field.

“But it’s my family’s business, so I have to come to the farm to earn a living,” said the man, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect himself and his relatives.

Many victims and families will not know who is responsible for the bombings, the Tatmadaw or anti-militancy groups.

A member of the Sagaing-based militia said his group had cleared about 100 landmines believed to have been planted by the military and planned to reuse them to add to its arsenal of improvised devices.

“The landmine is an indispensable weapon to attack the enemy,” said the member, who spoke by phone on condition of anonymity because of confidential information and fears the military would retaliate against his family.

A man in Myanmar’s western Chin state described how soldiers captured him, his pregnant wife and their 5-year-old daughter, forcing them and 10 other civilians to come forward, beating them with rifles if they refused.

“I was thinking. “Today is the day I die,” said the man, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. They ran away. no mines exploded during their march.

Landmine Monitor has documented similar incidents in other states, calling it a “gross violation of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

According to Landmine Monitor, Myanmar and Russia are the only countries documented to have used landmines in 2022.

The group also confirmed that the military is increasingly mining infrastructure such as cell phone towers and power lines to prevent attacks. The military-placed mines also protect at least two major Chinese-backed projects, a copper mine in Sagaing and a pipeline pumping station in northeastern Shan State, which are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Moser-Puangsuwan said.

“We are not aware of the situation you mentioned,” a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry faxed the AP. “The cooperation project between China and Myanmar is in line with the common interests of both sides and has brought tangible benefits to the people of Myanmar.”

It made no reference to any of the disabled.

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