The Myanmar military has been committing war crimes by laying landmines on a “massive scale” in and around villages in southeastern Kayah state, amid renewed fighting between the military and ethnic Karenni armed groups, according to Amnesty International.
The rights group said an on-the-ground investigation in Kayah, also known as Karenni state, found the military had been using several types of landmines, including the M-14, which typically blows off the victim’s foot at the ankle, and the MM-2, which often blows off the victim’s leg at the knee and causes injuries to other parts of the person’s body.
Both mines are made in Myanmar.
“The Myanmar military’s use of landmines is abhorrent and cruel,” Matt Wells, Amnesty International’s crisis response deputy director – thematic issues, said in a statement. “At a time when the world has overwhelmingly banned these inherently indiscriminate weapons, the military has placed them in people’s yards, homes, and even stairwells, as well as around a church.”
Myanmar was plunged into crisis after the military seized power in a coup in February 2021, driving mass protests, armed resistance among civilians opposed to military rule and a resurgence in many of the long-running conflicts with ethnic armed groups in the country’s border areas.
The military has responded with force, with more than 2,000 people killed in the crackdown and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Amnesty researchers interviewed 43 people, including landmine survivors, witnesses and healthcare workers, in Kayah state’s Demoso, Hpruso, and Loikaw Townships as part of its investigation into the use of mines. It also visited several recently demined villages during its visit to the area from June 25 to July 8.
The Karenni Human Rights Group (KHRG) has documented at least 20 civilians killed or seriously injured by landmines in Kayah since June 2021.
Activists, local aid workers, and people without formal training who have tried to demine villages told Amnesty the military’s use of landmines there had soared in recent months.
Rosie’s 17-year-old daughter, Ma Thein Yar Lin, stepped on a landmine as the pair were trying to return to their home in Loikaw town in early April, after being forced out by fighting in January.
“I heard the explosion, then I looked and saw a lot of smoke,” Rosie told Amnesty. “I heard my daughter yelling, ‘Mama, Mama,’ and I went to look and saw her lying on the ground.”
“I noticed that my daughter had no leg anymore… I went searching for [her leg], but the man who [was passing by and stopped] to help us said, ‘Stop! There will be another landmine. The most important thing is to stop the bleeding.’”
Ma Thein Yar Lin lost her right leg from the mid-calf down and had landmine fragments throughout her left leg.
The military also laid at least eight landmines in the church of St Matthew’s in Daw Ngay Khu village in Hpruso Township in mid-June during fighting in the area, according to Amnesty, and burned down the church and the neighbouring priest’s house as they retreated.
While some mines had been removed by the time Amnesty visited the site on June 27, people involved in demining said they believed there were more landmines there that had yet to be discovered.
A 41-year-old woman from Daw Ngay Khu told Amnesty: “That church was the centre of our village. We worried about our things [when the military started coming], so we brought them to the church to keep [them] there. We thought the Myanmar military would not attack the church, that it was a hallowed place.”
Soldiers also laid mines in and around people’s homes, Amnesty said, with credible reports of such activity across 20 villages in Kayah.
Earlier this year, Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based human rights group, accused the military of war crimes and probable crimes against humanity in the state, where at least 40 civilians were killed on Christmas Eve last year. Many of those who died were burned alive in their vehicles as they tried to escape.
“The military’s depraved use of landmines in homes and villages will continue to have devastating effects on civilians in Kayah State for years to come,” Rawya Rageh, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“We know from bitter experience that civilian deaths and injuries will mount over time, and the widespread contamination is already blocking people from returning to their homes and farmland.”