PHOTO SET 2005-A: Landmines

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PHOTO SET 2005-A: Landmines

Published date:
Friday, May 27, 2005

From October 2004 through January 2005, SPDC forces based in the plains of western Nyaunglebin district made forays eastward up the rivers into the hills in an effort to flush out the hill villagers who have thus far evaded their control.  The timing deliberately coincided with the annual rice harvest, and the tactics were simple: seek out the villagers' fields, burn or scatter the harvested grain, destroy the crop still in the fields by trampling or landmining it, or let animals and insects destroy it once the villagers have fled.  Burn the rice storage barns, the houses, schools and churches, and shoot the villagers on sight.  Make life in the hills untenable, so that villagers have to come and live under SPDC control.

From October 2004 through January 2005, SPDC forces based in the plains of western Nyaunglebin district made forays eastward up the rivers into the hills in an effort to flush out the hill villagers who have thus far evaded their control.  The timing deliberately coincided with the annual rice harvest, and the tactics were simple: seek out the villagers' fields, burn or scatter the harvested grain, destroy the crop still in the fields by trampling or landmining it, or let animals and insects destroy it once the villagers have fled.  Burn the rice storage barns, the houses, schools and churches, and shoot the villagers on sight.  Make life in the hills untenable, so that villagers have to come and live under SPDC control.

Landmines are used extensively by SPDC, DKBA, and KNLA forces in Karen regions.  The SPDC has not ratified the 1997 International Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and On Their Destruction (commonly referred to as the "Mine Ban Treaty"), and the DKBA and KNLA cannot ratify it because they are non-state groups.  While the use of mines has been increasingly condemned and curtailed globally since 1997, their use by all parties has steadily increased in Karen State during the same period.  The 2002 report "Impact of Landmines in Burma" released by Nonviolence International claimed that there had been a slight but steady increase in mine incidents throughout Burma since 1995, reaching an estimated 1,500 landmine victims per year.  Landmine use has continued unabated since then, and the 2004 "Landmine Monitor" released by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines states that "there are some indications of increased mine warfare" and that "Myanmar is among the countries with the highest number of [mine] casualties each year." [1]   The SPDC manufactures large numbers of several types of mines in its principle mine factory in Meiktila and associated explosives factories throughout central Burma, while the KNLA and DKBA continue to improvise their own rudimentary mines.  None of these groups effectively map their mines or remove them when no longer wanted.  The SPDC and DKBA only inform villagers which areas are mined if it serves their strategic intent, which is seldom.  The KNLA tries to inform villagers, but only sporadically and often insufficiently.

Most of those wounded, killed and otherwise affected by these mines are civilians.  This is not unusual for mine-infested countries, where mines targetted at combatants are more likely to unintentionally kill and maim civilians.  However, in Burma the SPDC often deploys mines with the intention of killing and maiming civilians.  SPDC troops trying to force villagers into SPDC-controlled areas deliberately landmine their villages, food storage sites, farmfields and pathways to make it impossible to live in remote areas.  The deliberate intention is to maim and kill a few displaced villagers in the hope that this will encourage the rest to come out of hiding.  In addition, civilians taken as porters by SPDC units are frequently forced to walk in front of the troops as human minesweepers, or to walk alone along pathways where mines are suspected.  To discourage the KNLA from mining roads, SPDC units sometimes force villagers to drive their bullock carts or ride in the back of trucks along roads before important military convoys are to pass.  Villagers are forced to clear the ground alongside roads to make mining them more difficult, and sometimes step on mines while doing so.  When KNLA mines wound SPDC soldiers or destroy their vehicles, brutal retaliation is carried out against Karen civilians living in the area.

Many landmine victims die on the spot or before they can be carried to help, which may be several days away.  The limited medical help available, usually from KNLA medics or mobile medical teams, is usually limited to amputation without anaesthesia.  Mines not only cause death and loss of limbs, but also force villagers to abandon their villages and fields, and undermine their survival by restricting their movements and livelihood activities.

The photos below have been divided into two categories: The Mines , showing some of the types of anti-personnel landmines being used in Karen areas and how they are used, and The Victims , showing the direct and indirect effects that these landmines have on villagers.  Additional information and background on mine use in Karen areas can be found in most major KHRG reports and in past KHRG Photo Sets.

11.1  The Mines

The SPDC Army, DKBA and KNLA all use mines throughout Karen regions.  Traditionally the Tatmadaw used mines mainly around its camp perimeters and it still does so, but in recent years SPDC soldiers have greatly increased their use of landmines.  They now use them to restrict the movement of villagers (see photo 11-2 ) and to undermine the survival of IDPs, by laying mines in villages and farmfields in areas which they are trying to depopulate (see photos 1-27 and 2-15 to 2-17 ), booby-trapping rice storage barns (see photos 11-20 to 11-24 ), and mining pathways known to be used by displaced villagers (see photos 11-1 and 11-2 ).  The DKBA lays mines in similar locations, though their targets are often KNLA soldiers rather than civilians.  The KNLA, with far too few troops to meet SPDC forces head-on, uses mines to harass and restrict the movement of SPDC columns and to protect KNLA supply lines. This includes laying mines along the roads and pathways used by SPDC columns, and in the jungle just off pathways used as KNLA supply lines in order to prevent SPDC troops from setting up ambushes.  None of these forces properly map their mines, and they almost never remove them even when their supposed 'strategic' use has passed.  All three groups also use Claymore directional mines (see below), mainly for springing ambushes but sometimes rigged to tripwires.  The KNLA clears large numbers of SPDC mines, including most of those shown below (see photos 2-15 to 2-17 , 11-4 and 11-5 , 11-8 , and 11-9 and 11-10 ), and presumably the SPDC and DKBA clear KNLA mines when found.  Villagers sometimes clear mines themselves if no KNLA soldiers are available; photo 11-3 shows a poster warning them against the dangers of this, smuggled in from Thailand as part of Nonviolence International's mine awareness campaign in Karen areas.

The SPDC's increased use of mines has been facilitated by the establishment of a domestic mine production capability.  Until the late 1980s the regime relied mainly on imported Chinese and American-made landmines, but in the early 1990s the Chinese government provided the SPDC with a custom-built factory dedicated to the manufacture of landmines at Meiktila in Central Burma.  This works in conjunction with high explosives factories, some of which are in Prome and Magwe, established in the late 1960s under the BSPP regime.  Collectively known as the Ka Pa Sa factories [abbreviated from Karkweye Pyitsu Setyoun – the Burmese name for the Directorate of Defence Industries] , these are known to produce at least two types of landmines: the MM-1 and the MM-2, labelled in Burmese 'Ma Ma 1' and 'Ma Ma 2' (the 'Ma Ma' may stand for Myanma Mine-bon [Myanmar Mine]).  The MM-1 is a copy of the Chinese-made Type 58 Stake Fragmentation Mine (SFM), itself a copy of the Soviet PMOZ-2 or 'corncob' mine (see Photo 11-1 ).  This mine is either buried with just the detonator above ground, or mounted above ground on a stake, usually concealed among long grass or bushes, with a tripwire attached.  The latter method makes it more likely to kill the victim outright rather than just blow off the leg, and allows it to kill or maim not only the person who triggers it but others within a radius of a few metres.  Upon detonation, the cast iron body of the mine shatters into 60 pre-shaped segments which are thrown outwards in a 360 degree arc.  The MM-2 is a copy of the Chinese-made Type 58 Blast Mine (BM), which is itself a copy of the older Soviet PMN mine (see Photo 11-8 ).  It is buried so that the pressure plate that forms its upper surface is level with the ground.  Its explosive force is sufficient to completely blow off a person's lower leg.  KNLA soldiers have also unearthed many American M-14 (or copy) mines laid by SPDC troops (see photos 1-27 and 11-9 and 11-10 ).  Lower powered than the MM2, these small mines are concealed in the ground and maim the leg of whoever triggers them.  The SPDC also manufactures its own variant of the American-made M-18 Claymore Directional Fragmentation Mine (DFM).  These mines are normally command detonated electrically using a hand dynamo in order to spring an ambush, but may also be rigged to detonate with a tripwire.  When the mine is detonated, the C4 explosive which constitutes just under half the mine's weight explodes, sending 700 small steel balls out in a 60 degree arc with a stated lethal range of up to 50 metres.  Anything caught within this lethal arc is literally cut to shreds.  Recent evidence indicates that the SPDC may now also be producing its own bounding fragmentation mines (BFM) (See photos 11-4 and 11-5 ).  These are buried but when triggered they spring into the air before exploding, so they are more likely to kill their victims as well as anyone else within several metres.

Most of the KNLA's landmines are homemade Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), typically consisting of a length of plastic piping stuffed with gunpowder or explosives and scrap metal or shotgun pellets, attached to a small detonator powered by a cheap dry cell alkaline battery (examples of KNLA IEDs are shown in photos F13 and F17 in Photo Set 2002-A).  They make different versions of these, including high-powered ones sufficient to destroy a truck when concealed along vehicle roads.  They also have some American-made landmines and claymores bought on the Thai black market, and mines captured from SPDC forces.

The DKBA is capable of producing landmines similar to those used by the KNLA.  The SPDC has also supplied the DKBA with mines on occasion, though it is unclear to what extent and whether this is still occurring.  The DKBA now appears to have developed the capability to manufacture its own Claymore mines (see photos 11-6 and 11-7 ). 

11.2  The Victims 

The majority of people wounded and killed by landmines in Karen regions are civilians.  Not only is the use of landmines out of all proportion to the low-level nature of the armed conflict, but the SPDC in particular and the DKBA to a lesser extent are deploying landmines specifically targetted at displaced civilian populations.  In areas which the SPDC is trying to depopulate, abandoned villages are mined to prevent people living there (see photos 11-11 , 3-3 , 11-47 and 2-15 to 2-17 ); fields and riverbanks are mined to block their access to food (see photos 11-16 to 11-18 , 11-29 to 11-31 , and 11-50 ); rice storage barns are booby-trapped (see photos 11-20 to 11-24 ); and pathways are mined to restrict villagers' movements (see photos 10-85 to 10-87 ), to stop relocated villagers from returning home (see photos 11-16 to 11-18 , 3-3 , and 10-57 to 10-58 ), and to prevent supplies reaching IDPs in hiding from SPDC-controlled areas (see photos 11-1 and 11-2 ).  In addition, villagers are routinely used as human minesweepers by SPDC forces.  Civilian and convict porters are forced to march in front of SPDC columns (see photos 6-79 , 6-80 and 6-81 , and 6-93 ), or ordered to walk along a potentially mined path while the soldiers move through the bush (see photos 11-37 to 11-39 ).  Porters or guides who step on mines are usually left to die in the forest (see photo 11-45 ), while SPDC soldiers wounded by mines are carried (by forced labour civilian porters) to medical help.  Convict porters sometimes trigger landmines when they flee through the forest (see photos 11-27 and 11-28 and 11-40 and 11-41 ).  People doing forced labour clearing roadsides or gathering materials for SPDC officers sometimes detonate landmines as well (see photos 6-105 and 6-106 and 11-51 ), but are given no compensation for medical costs.  Children are frequent victims, whether during forced labour or while helping gather food for their families (see photos 11-19 , 11-25 and 11-26 , 11-32 to 11-36 , and 11-50 ).  Villagers also lose significant numbers of livestock to mines (see photos 10-85 to 10-87 and 11-53 ).

SPDC and DKBA forces only inform villagers where mines have been placed if their purpose is to keep villagers out of those areas – in which case they sometimes warn of landmines which do not exist.  The KNLA regularly informs village elders and IDP leaders of which pathways and areas are mined, but these efforts are not systematic and villagers often fall victim to KNLA mines.  Soldiers of all sides are wounded or killed while trying to lay their own mines or clear those laid by the other armies (see photos 11-42 and 11-43 ).  Some displaced villagers have been given mines by the KNLA so they can set up defences around their hiding sites, but in the hands of people without much training these can easily lead to tragedy (see photo 11-44 ).  Villagers are also killed or wounded when trying to clear mines or by handling unexploded ordnance (see photo 11-52 ).

Many are killed outright by mines or bleed to death on the spot.  If they survive, they must usually be carried several days' walk, slung in a hammock from a bamboo pole and dodging SPDC columns and mines along the way, to find the nearest KNLA medics or mobile medical team (see photos 11-16 to 11-18 , 11-32 to 11-36 , and 11-47 ).  The medics themselves only have simple tools and medicines, so they clean the wound with alcohol or iodine, remove metal fragments with tweezers, cut away mangled flesh and amputate often without any anaesthetic (see photos 11-16 to 11-18 and 11-32 to 11-36 ).  Some of the photos below are horrible to look at, but they are included to demonstrate the full horror of mines and their effects on people's lives.

Mines also pose an indirect threat to villagers, because whenever SPDC soldiers or vehicles are hit by a KNLA mine they punish local villagers in retaliation.  Photos 4-1 to 4-7 and 4-8 to 4-10 provide one such example, when SPDC forces arrested and brutally tortured twelve villagers after a KNLA mine destroyed one of their trucks.  Three of the villagers died under torture, while among the others one had his eye gouged out and others were repeatedly asphyxiated or set on fire.

The people shown below will carry the disabilities inflicted by mines for life, if they survive.  The effects of mines are not only physical, however, but psychological and material – forcing people to live in constant fear of moving around their home area, and making it impossible to continue farming, foraging, fishing and other activities of daily life.  Among the 'victims' below we have therefore included not only those who have been wounded or killed by exploding mines, but also those who have been traumatised by being used as human minesweepers, and villagers who have been forced to abandon villages and fields which have been polluted with landmines.