DVB: In eastern Burma, landmines remain an invisible curse to farmers


In eastern Burma, landmines remain an invisible curse to farmers (click to view)


Vast tracts of eastern Burma are littered with landmines, remnants of a long running civil war between rebel armies and successive Burmese regimes.

Yet as ceasefire talks continue and hostile armies move towards peace, the mines continue to plague innocent villagers.

Local residents in Karenni and southern Shan states are now demanding that the government begin clearing the landscape of these deadly weapons.

Of particular concern, the villagers say, are mines laid by the Burmese army in the pastureland that surrounds electricity towers.

The national power grid stretches out through Karenni State, and throughout decades of war the Burmese army mined fields surrounding infrastructure such as the Lawpita Hydropower plant.

The towers have been designated targets by ethnic armed groups throughout the conflict in eastern Burma. Since the 1960s, locals say, these landmines have claimed the lives of civilians, cattle, and even the towers’ maintenance workers.

One staff member from Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise said that several of his co-workers have been killed.

“We have lost workers to the landmines. They usually die from their injuries,” he said. “It happens quite often around tower-36 near to Lawpita. One of our men stood on one and was killed on the spot.”

Residents in villages along the grid, which runs from southern Karenni state north into Shan State, said for generations they have lived with the constant fear of stepping on a landmine. This fear, they say, has caused psychological trauma among the local populace.

“With all the ordinance around, we feel very unsafe walking or working in the fields, trying to make a living,” said one Lawpita resident.

“Sometimes we bring our dogs to our farm work and they play around and set off a landmine.”

Ethnic political parties believe that a demining programme should go hand in hand with ceasefire agreements and peace talks between the government and ethnic armed groups.

Nan Yi, general secretary of the Kayan National Party, reinforced that sentiment.

“Since we can now see peace on the horizon, we don’t think the situation demands the use of landmines. Those who are responsible for laying these mines should begin a demining programme,” he said.

He added that fearful farmers are often the victims of an added injustice.

“Quite often, cattle owned by locals accidently set off mines. The owner, while having lost their cattle, is also made to pay compensation for the mine that exploded,” Nan Yi said.