Six killed, 11 injured by landmines amid renewed tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state

Six people were killed and at least 11 others injured in nearly 30 landmine explosions over the past two months in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states, an ethnic Rakhine group said Tuesday, amid reports of clashes between the military and Rakhine rebels.

The Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), which documents the casualties from landmines used in the war in Rakhine, said in a statement that landmine blasts have been reported in areas of intense fighting between junta troops and the ethnic Arakan Army (AA), including the townships of Myebon, Ann, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Rathedaung.

An uneasy truce between the military and the AA had lasted for more than a year, but tensions have increased between the two sides since May. In roughly two months, landmines have killed three people and injured one in Kyauktaw; killed two in Ann; killed one and wounded another in Myebon; injured four in Mrauk-U; injured two in Rathedaung; injured one in Minbya; and injured two in Chin state’s Paletwa township, the group said.

On July 9, a 14-year-old boy named Sithu Kyaw Lin, who was known as Lin Lin, was killed in an explosion near Ann township’s Zu Kaing village. His family told RFA Burmese that he triggered a landmine planted by the military on his way to a hill located about a mile east of the village.

Lin Lin’s father, Moe Lwin, said he tried to retrieve his son’s body with the help of some village elders and two AA soldiers that same day, but was prevented from doing so when two additional mines were discovered along the way. He said the two soldiers removed the mines, which they said had been planted by the military’s 66th division, before taking them away to be disposed of.

“The 66th division was stationed there following a plane crash in the area,” he said.

“[The AA soldiers] said there were many more mines around and that we mustn’t go near the hill [where Lin Lin’s body lay]. They said that if I went, I would likely die. I wish the authorities would search for and destroy these mines.”

Moe Lwin, who is also the father of three young daughters, told RFA that he was compelled to retrieve his son’s body the following day.

“The next morning, I decided to go. They still tried to stop me but I went there alone and found my son’s body and I brought it back,” he said. “As a father, I was devastated. My son was not even 15 years old — an 8th grade student. I cry every day.”

Another landmine explosion on July 8, near an area of Mrauk-U township where the military’s light infantry battalions (LIB) 377 and 378 had established a camp, injured three Muslim Rohingya minors from Paung Toke village and a young man from Kyauktaw township’s Ba Laung Chaung village, according to Ann Thar Gyi, who is assisting the wounded.

“The Muslim boys triggered landmines in a spot they normally gather, and it is close to the [military] camp,” he said, adding that the group had been tending cattle when the incident occurred.

“The mines were planted in the shade of trees, and so we can say they were meant to hit civilians. All the mine blasts in Rakhine state have occurred in the vicinity of Myanmar military bases, so we are demanding that mines not be planted in a way to harm civilians.”

Ann Thar Gyi told RFA that two of the injured boys were taken to Mrauk-U’s Myaung Bwe Hospital with serious injuries.

Other incidents

In Kyauktaw township, a resident of Myar Li Kan village and another of Wet Hmaing village were killed by landmines on July 1 and 4 respectively, while they tended cattle near the LIB 377 military camp, according to the REC.

On June 14, two refugees from the Sahin Refugee Camp in Myebon township were killed and another injured when a landmine exploded while they were digging bamboo shoots in the forest for food, the group said.

And on June 17, a couple from Rathedaung township’s Thar Si Htaunt village were injured when a landmine exploded while they worked in the fields.

REC Secretary Zaw Zaw Tun said that both the military and the AA should use the relative calm of the ongoing ceasefire to clear mines in Rakhine.

“In this situation, both sides should do something for the benefit of the people. Reducing the risk of landmines must be a priority. Therefore, both sides need to help in finding ways to effectively reduce landmine accidents,” he said.

“Each side could work on their own to clear mines. If both sides do this, the harm to the people will be reduced. Isn’t that possible because there isn’t fighting anymore? I want them to think about that. If they can do that, the risk of landmines will be reduced.”

AA spokesman Khaing Thukha responded to inquiries from RFA by saying that the victims were killed and injured from landmines left by the military.

“It's all because of the Myanmar army. They planted mines around all of their camps, as well as the bases and battalion headquarters, using the excuse that they were for security reasons,” he said.

“The mines planted in those areas where they were stationed were not taken away when they left. These are abandoned mines … that are now causing harm to local civilians.”

Khaing Thukha did not respond to questions from RFA about whether the AA has used landmines in its fight against the military.

Repeated attempts by RFA to contact junta Deputy Minister of Information Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun went unanswered Tuesday.

A bloody campaign

The AA fought a fierce campaign against Myanmar’s military from December 2018 to November 2020, demanding autonomy for ethnic Rakhines.

More than 300 civilians were killed and more than 700 injured during the fighting, according to figures compiled by RFA.

The two sides agreed to an informal ceasefire shortly before the military seized power in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup, and the truce has held for more than a year. However, residents say tensions have risen in Rakhine due to arrests and the arrival of military reinforcements.

Tensions are simmering even outside Rakhine since the AA also has a presence in Chin, Kayin and Shan states.

The REC says 63 civilians have been killed and 77 injured in landmines and explosive remnants of war since fighting broke out in Rakhine State.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs nearly 78,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Rakhine and Chin states as of March 6 this year due to fighting between junta forces and the AA.

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