Amnesty International (AI) today released a report accusing the Burma Army of committing war crimes by laying landmines across Karenni State. The findings were published following an investigation conducted in the war torn region.
The Karenni Human Rights Group (KnHRG) told the international rights group that it believed at least 20 civilians had been killed or seriously injured by mines since July 2021, and that the military has grown increasingly more reliant on the devices as it cedes territory to surging resistance forces.
“The Myanmar military’s use of landmines is abhorrent and cruel. 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,” Matt Wells, Deputy Director of AI’s Crisis Response team, was quoted as saying.
Antipersonnel landmines are banned under international law; the Burmese military is the only national armed forces (if one may still designate it such) that is confirmed to have used landmines over 2020-2021. Military personnel reportedly placed mines in civilian areas, including yards, outside toilets, at the entrance of homes, and on paths leading to paddy fields.
Ethnic armed groups in Karenni have warned locals about unexploded ordnances and activists have said that local aid workers and amateur bomb squad have taken up the task to demine the state.
According to AI’s report, the Burma Army has also mined religious sites, including St. Matthew’s Church in Daw Ngay Khu village in Hpruso township. At least eight landmines were placed on church grounds on June 27 of this year and locals said that there are likely more mines that are yet to be discovered. On June 15, during the same operation, junta forces burned down the church and a priest’s home.
“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,” a local woman told the rights group.
AI called on the Burmese military to end its use of antipersonnel landmines and support the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which has been signed by 164 countries.
“The military’s depraved use of landmines in homes and villages will continue to have devastating effects on civilians in Kayah [Karenni] State for years to come. 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,” said Rawya Rageh, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty International.
In addition to Karenni State, casualties from unexploded ordnances have been increasingly reported across Burma, including in Rakhine, Chin, and Shan states. UNICEF reported in May that at least 33 people in Burma have died and 86 have been injured by landmines.