Anti-personnel and other mines
Throughout the two decades leading up to 2012, KHRG documented the extensive use of anti-personnel and other mines by a wide range of actors in the seven Karen districts in Southeast Myanmar. Tatmadaw forces have planted anti-personnel mines around forward military outposts to maim or kill EAG combatants and civilians deemed to support them, and to stop people returning to villages from which they have been forcibly relocated. Outnumbered, EAGs have employed the heavy use of mines in order to hold territory when in conflict with the Tatmadaw. Mine use by both groups has led to civilian casualties, particularly among displaced people. Civilians in a small number of IDP areas, hiding sites and some established villages have also used mines to provide protection of their settlements, by impeding Tatmadaw incursions and providing early warnings, allowing them time to flee. They have also used mines to protect food stores, or to guard agricultural land to allow them to work without fear of government troops.
Mine contamination in Southeast Myanmar has for decades presented threats to human security, through exposure to physical harm and significant restrictions on movement and livelihoods. In response, villagers have employed a range of methods, documented throughout the past 20 years by KHRG, to avoid physical harm and maintain steady access to food and income. Despite government restrictions on humanitarian interventions and security impediments, local organisations have provided limited support to these efforts through Mine Risk Education (MRE), with some assistance from international actors.
Since January 2012, the ceasefire process has enabled the discussion of systematic mine removal among armed actors and by the Government. The Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC), together with international humanitarian mine actors, has formed the Myanmar Mine Action Center (MMAC). The entity aims to coordinate mine removal activities throughout the country, but has made little progress thus far. At the same time, Tatmadaw, BGFs and EAGs have made attempts in some areas to coordinate their own efforts to decrease contamination. As is evidenced below, these armed actors currently lack the technical skills to safely remove mines and to guarantee that areas have been comprehensively cleared.
A mine is defined by the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) as "a munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle." The MBT bans the use of anti-personnel mines, defined as “a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.” While the Tatmadaw have produced or imported fragmentation and blast anti-personnel mines, EAGs have typically used victim activated improvised explosive devices (VAIEDs), both of which are anti-personnel mines banned under the MBT. Furthermore, both the Tatmadaw and EAGs use anti-vehicle mines, which are defined as mines “designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices.” The MBT does not ban anti-vehicle mines, however customary international humanitarian law requires that “when they are used, particular care must be taken to minimise their indiscriminate effects.”
While Myanmar is not currently a signatory of the MBT, in July 2012, the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that Myanmar was considering accession to the MBT as part of its reforms. It was also reported that the Minister said that the Tatmadaw is no longer using mines and is pursuing a peace pact with EAGs, which would include banning the weapon.
New planting of mines by Tatmadaw and EAGs since January 2012
KHRG has received reports of mines planted by the Tatmadaw or EAGs in only two districts since January 2012. This is a sharp contrast to the period immediately before the ceasefire. During 2011, KHRG documented the planting of new mines by Tatmadaw soldiers in six out of seven districts, and in four districts by EAGs.
“If we look back [at the period of time] since the ceasefire agreement between the KNU and the Myanmar government, we can be sure that no new mines have been planted. We only have old mines from the past which have not been removed.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Thandaunggyi and Htantabin townships, Toungoo District/ Northern Kayin State (February to July 2013)
KHRG researchers reported that, as of November 2013, the KNLA and villagers continue to plant anti-personnel mines around IDP sites in Lu Thaw Township, Hpapun District due to ongoing fear of attack by Tatmadaw troops. Also in Hpapun District, KHRG documentation provides evidence that the KNLA planted an anti-vehicle mine on a road specifically to deter the continuation of a BGF-backed development project in February 2013, which exploded shortly after it was planted killing five civilians. In Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, a KHRG researcher reported that the local BGF and DKBA soldiers continued to plant new mines in 2012.
“In 2012, BGF soldiers planted mines. The armed actors are still planting new mines. Saw A--- stepped on a mine on January 20th 2013 in A--- [village]. The mine was new and it was a DKBA mine.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/ Central Kayin State (June 2012 to February 2013)
Areas known to be mined
Since January 2012, KHRG field documentation described ongoing mine contamination in Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, Hpapun, Dooplaya and Hpa-an districts.
KHRG researchers reported that mines remain in the ground in both of the townships in Toungoo District. In Htantabin Township, KNLA mines remain along the Naw Soh - Bu Hsa Hkee road and around the Tatmadaw’s Bu Hsa Hkee army camp, while Tatmadaw mines remain near Wa Soh village/army camp. Further north in Thandaunggyi Township, KHRG reports describe mine contamination around K’Thwee Dee village, which is near an abandoned Tatmadaw base, and around Kaw Thay Der and May Thay Der Mountain where “the Tatmadaw planted an unknown number of mines after a KNLA ambush” in the mid-2000s.
KHRG has documented anti-personnel mine contamination in Mone Township, Nyaunglebin District, where six villagers were seriously injured in mine accidents between February and June 2013. Additionally, an anti-vehicle mine which was planted by the KNLA in 2011 reportedly remains between the Tatmadaw’s Kat Pe base camp and Mu Theh village.
Mines remain near abandoned army bases or camps and around operational bases housing BGF Battalions #1013 and #1014 in Meh Seik and a BGF Battalion #1015 base in Meh Pree in Bu Tho Township. Mines also remain underground in Lu Thaw Township, including near the Tatmadaw’s See Day base and around IDP villages, as well as in Dwe Lo Township.
Kawkareik Township in Dooplaya District remains contaminated with DKBA, KNLA and Tatmadaw mines planted in 2010 and 2011. The mines remain around abandoned army camps, on the grounds of a church, in and around villages, in villagers’ plantations, at the source of water channels and on mountains. In Kyainseikgyi Township, some mines remain near the Tatmadaw base outside U Kray Htar village.
“I saw that DKBA soldiers had stuck two red warning signs to two trees along the way to signal that mines had been placed there. I [also] saw two signs along the path from Htee Ther Leh to K’Law Ghaw village … Mines also exist at the source of the water channel on the Wah Hsguh Poo Mountain as well. Between Htee Ther Leh and Waw Lay, and Waw Lay and U Kray Hta, there are smaller amounts of mines. This is due to the fact that these places are situated close to the Tatmadaw Phyu Ha Kon army camp. DKBA Battalion #907 and Kaw Thoo Lei [KNLA]planted those mines, whereas Burmese soldiers [Tatmadaw] just plant mines around their camp. There are more mines between U Kray Hta village and Wa Mee Hta village. Since 2010, villagers have dared not go there to gather leaves due to DKBA Battalion #907 mines. … Mines exist in the KNLA Battalion #18-held area, situated to the east of the Dawna mountain range and the KNLA’s Battalion #103-held area, which stretches from Kya K’Wa village to Per Kler village.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District/ Southern Kayin State (April to June 2012)
Nabu Township, Hpa-an District remains a heavily mine contaminated area due to planting of mines by the DKBA, BGFs, Tatmadaw and KNLA in 2010 and 2011. After portions of the DKBA refused to transform into BGF battalions in 2010, tensions quickly rose between those who refused and those who accepted. Both sides then began strategically planting anti-personnel mines to protect their own bases and limit the other from leaving theirs. Each side also planted mines in villagers’ plantations and gardens where the opposition was thought to be operating. In September 2011, a (former-DKBA) BGF battalion and Tatmadaw forces attacked a KNLA base in Htee Wa Plaw village tract in Nabu Township and subsequently planted mines beside villages and in their farms. According to KHRG documentation, Noh Kay, Htee Klay and Htee Kyah Rah village tracts, all in Nabu Township, remain highly contaminated with anti-personnel mines.
Mine-related death or injury
Since January 2012, KHRG researchers in three districts documented specific incidents in which civilian death or injury resulted from mine accidents. Between February and June 2013, six villagers were injured in anti-personnel mine accidents in Mone Township, Nyaunglebin District. These incidents occurred while villagers were collecting firewood, conducting logging activities, searching for vegetables or traveling by road. Three of these villagers sustained such severe injuries to their legs that they required amputation. Also in Nyaunglebin, a Tatmadaw road construction vehicle detonated an anti-vehicle mine in October 2012 in Kyaukkyi Township, although no one was injured.
“On April 20th 2013, a villager from Mone Township, B---, 23-years-old, was hit by an [anti-personnel] mine at 7:00 am while he went and looked for firewood. He was sent to Mone Hospital and his left leg was amputated. He detonated a mine [by stepping on it] at a place one mile from Kyuang Su, which is in Kyi La Myaung region. Both the KNLA and the Burmese military [Tatmadaw] are active in that place.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Mone Township, Nyaunglebin District/Eastern Bago Region (February to April 2013)
In Hpapun District, KHRG documented an anti-vehicle mine incident on February 11th 2013, when a Green Hill Company truck, carrying five workers who were collecting sand and stones to construct a road, detonated the mine, killing all five workers, including the driver and three workers who were under 18 years old (remains of truck pictured in photo). According to KHRG documentation, KNLA soldiers planted the mine after making several requests for the development project to be stopped. In Hpa-an District, five civilians were reported injured in anti-personnel mine incidents, all in Nabu Township, while collecting food or working in their plantations between January and March 2012.
“The KNLA [planted the mine]. … It started when [Ko Myo of Green Hill Company] took some sand for [building] a school, having gotten the permission [from local KNU officials and a village tract leader]. They allowed it [at first] because it was for a school. But later he [Ko Myo] did it for the company [began collected sand for a separate Green Hill Company construction project]; the construction was [backed by] a BGF. They [KNU] do not like it, so they banned it. So the problem began there. Because Ko Myo went there [to collect sand] many times and people [in the KNU] told him to stop and not to take it [the sand].”
D--- (male), Dwe Lo Township, Hpapun District/Northeastern Kayin State (Interviewed in March 2013)
Movement and livelihood restrictions
The most commonly reported concern by villagers across Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, Hpapun, Dooplaya and Hpa-an districts regarding mines, is that current mine contamination severely restricts their ability to travel freely and conduct their livelihood activities. Villagers in these districts reported that they are unable to cultivate their plantations, gather food or other materials from forests due to fear of mines. One villager reported that a mine in the sole shaded spot near villagers’ plantations also prevents workers from using the only area suitable for rest during the workday. Furthermore, KHRG has documented dozens of deaths of villagers’ livestock, in particular cows and buffalos, which stepped on mines while grazing. Villagers also report that armed actors inform local communities of the locations of only some mines, which also serves to restrict villagers’ freedom of movement, as they cannot trust that a given area is safe.
“As a result, the villagers from Thi Wah, Tha Waw Thaw, and Noh Kyaw villages said that they do not even dare to think about going into the forest or into the gardens, as some of the villagers have stepped on mines there before, and also their domestic animals were hit by [stepped on] mines.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Southern Kayin State (April 2013)
“There are mines which haven’t been taken out yet. I bought a betel nut orchard, but now I dare not go there. I dare not take the direct route. If we take the direct route, there are still mines left.”
Saw E--- (male), Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District/Northeastern Kayin State (Interviewed in February 2013)
Villagers have responded to these livelihood restrictions by taking alternative routes to their plantations and informing each other of safe routes; tying up their livestock; renting other villagers’ livestock after theirs had been killed in mine incidents; and renting portions of other villagers’ non-contaminated farms to cultivate. Villagers living near mine contaminated farms have also transitioned to livelihood activities that can be undertaken within the geographic confines of their village, such as producing charcoal or alcohol, breeding livestock or using materials from trees within their village site. These strategies have economic costs too, as villagers are unable to make as much money by producing goods in their village as they are by cultivating large plantations.
“A village head explained that, ‘Following [fighting between DKBA and Tatmadaw], no one knew how many mines [were planted around]these two villages [Ta Auh Hta and Kwee Ler Hsgu], so it presents big difficulties for villagers who go out to search food.’ To protect themselves, villagers advise each other to be vigilant when they go out to find food or work.”
Incident Report written by a KHRG researcher, Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District/Southern Kayin State (February 2012)
“Villagers do not dare to travel and find firewood outside of their village or near their farm, so they mostly find firewood in their village. Their buffalos, cows and goats are tethered with rope. As long as the mines remain in the ground, the villagers have to protect themselves by renting other people’s farms that have no mines and they have to buy people’s rice to be able to survive. As they have no other way [to maintain] their livelihood, they have to make charcoal, produce alcohol and breed buffalos, cows, goats, pigs and chickens but not in large numbers, just for their daily survival. Moreover, they send their children to Bangkok and ask them to send money back to their parents.”
Incident Report written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (April 2012)
“Because there were mines in the forest and around villages, villagers had to cut down trees from orchards in their villages, such as mango trees, jackfruit trees and other plants. The villagers built their houses using trees that belong to them.”
Photo Notes written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/ Central Kayin State (February 2013)
Marking and removal
KHRG began to receive reports of mine removal by Tatmadaw and EAGs in 2010, with more coordinated efforts reported in 2012. Villagers have described benefits to mine removal, but have mainly reported challenges faced by armed actors in removing the mines, as well as negative consequences of partial mine removal.
Local communities explain that freedom of movement is significantly increased when mines are properly marked. In one community, villagers coordinated with the local authorities to identify the location of mines and mark them themselves.
“Travelling by land [in Paingkyon Township] to larger cities has now become more comfortable, easier and quicker. Also [it is easier to access] trees for building houses because there has been no new planting of mines near the area. … Villagers have marked KNU mines, BGF mines and Burmese military regime [Tatmadaw] mines in a specific area, or haveasked the KNU, BGF and Burmese government military, who explain and direct the villagers to where mines are located, so villagers can mark and notify [others of] the location.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Paingkyon Township, Dooplaya District/Southern Kayin State (September 2013)
In other areas, however, persistent requests have also been made by villagers for the removal of mines from their plantations, and in one case from beside a church Sunday school, but remain unmet.
Villagers also reported serious obstacles to systematic mine removal, such as the inability of KNLA soldiers to remember where mines were planted and a lack of requisite training or equipment to remove mines from a particular area.
“…KNU/KNLA [officials] said that they do not have the skills to carry out demining and are afraid to do so. Neither the people from that area nor the KNU know the places where mines have been planted by the Tatmadaw and the Tatmadaw has not informed them.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Htantabin and Thandaunggyi townships, Toungoo District/Northern Kayin State (February to July 2013)
While Tatmadaw forces have undertaken mine removal, this appeared to be motivated by a desire to facilitate military operations rather than to ensure civilian protection. In February 2012, the Tatmadaw used bulldozers to clear some landmines from a vehicle road and U Kray Hta village near an army base; however, villagers complained that the U Kray Hta School compound, the village and agricultural areas surrounding the village remained contaminated by mines.
In another instance in Lu Thaw Township, Hpapun District, Tatmadaw soldiers scattered salt to attract buffalo owned by villagers to detonate mines, killing 20 to 30 privately-owned animals. Mine removal must be systematic to be effective. While the Tatmadaw’s approach demonstrates little potential to improve local safety, it has instead damaged villagers’ livelihood security, as the deaths of livestock impaired their ability to cultivate their plantations and transport materials.
“The buffalos smelled [salt that had been scatteredby Tatmadaw soldiers], went to the areas where it was and stepped on the mines. 20 or 30 of the civilians’ buffalos died by stepping on the mines. Because many buffalos have died from mines, people whose buffalos were killed have no other buffalos for cultivation and that causes problems for them because they have to hire other people’s buffalos for cultivation. Our work no longer goes smoothly because there are no buffalos left [to use] for work.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Lu Thaw Township, Hpapun District/Northeastern Kayin State (April to July 2013)
At the request of villagers in Noh Kay and Htee Klay village tracts in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, a party of KNLA and BGF soldiers, as well as local residents, attempted to remove landmines that had been planted by both armed actors during 2011, whose location had never been marked and which were resulting in landmine casualties. Underscoring the dangers of mine removal without sufficient technical skills, nascent removal efforts were stopped when a BGF soldier was killed after stepping on a mine.
“In February 2012, KNLA Battalion #101 and Border Guard [Column] #3 worked together following an order [stemming from the January 2012 ceasefire agreement] to remove the mines. Those who came and removed the mines were BGF Company Commander Hpah Maw Hkoh, with Sergeant Kee Kyaw, Private Htwee Heh Kay and Battalion Deputy Commander Maung Ngway Heh, and they managed it with 20 of their soldiers. With regards the KNLA, 2nd Lieutenant K’Loo Koo and Hpah Htwee Maw managed it with about 15 soldiers. Some of the village heads accompanied them. They were able to remove 30 mines altogether. At 3:00 pm on that same day, February 11th, a BGF soldier named Htwee Heh Kay was hit by one of their own mines. Because of that, the removal of mines was stopped.”
Situation Update written by a KHRG researcher, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (January to April 2012)
In May 2012, 37 residents in the same area submitted their names and requested that KHRG make known the fact that mines are preventing them from accessing a total of 13 flat paddy fields and 23 cash-crop plantations. These villagers requested that KHRG share publicly their names and that of their village in order to encourage urgent de-mining of this area.
“We want to ask them to remove [their mines]. Do they dare to remove them? If they dare to remove them, we really want to ask them to do so in order for us to travel freely. … We absolutely must go on that one path [where mines have been planted] because it is the way to our farm.”
F--- (male), Nabu Township, Hpa-an District/Central Kayin State (Interview in May 2012)
All armed actors should agree to and enforce a comprehensive ban on the new use of mines. Before such a ban is agreed to, commanders should take responsibility for prohibiting the planting of new mines in civilians’ farmlands and pathways and must consistently inform the local community about the location of existing and new mines. Systematic removal of mines throughout Karen areas will not be possible until there is a final peace agreement. This is particularly applicable to KNU-controlled areas, IDP areas and heavily militarised areas, where Tatmadaw, EAGs and villagers were reported to still be using mines for defence and self-protection as of the end of 2013.
As part of any non-technical surveys, international and local actors must conduct inclusive and fully participatory consultations and assessments to determine villagers’ opinions and perspectives on mine action and removal. In communities where villagers have determined that mines should be removed, fully trained and equipped national and/or international actors should begin mine removal.
The systematic removal of mines will require proper coordination between different EAGs and the Government, which has not been achieved yet. In all areas where possible, mine risk education experts should work with local communities to support self-protection strategies against mine accidents. Where armed actors intend to begin removal, personnel should be first provided with sufficient expertise and equipment. International mine action actors and the Government will need to ensure not just that necessary support is available to all armed actors, but also that those actors are fully aware of its availability and are able to gain access to it.
The Myanmar government and EAGs should ensure that mine victims have access to free medical care when accidents occur. International humanitarian actors should assist in building the capacity of state and non-state healthcare providers to ensure free access to healthcare for all mine victims.