Due to the prevalence of landmines in the Maethawaw area, it is unsafe for displaced persons (IDPs) from the recent fighting to return to their homes, according to the local ethnic Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), which is operating under Burmese army command.
“We are currently clearing the area of landmines, but it is a challenge as they are scattered everywhere,” said BGF officer Naing Maung Zaw. “We are therefore advising locals to stick to the roads for their own safety when travelling.”
Some 4,000 villagers have been compelled to flee their homes in Maethawaw in recent weeks due to a series of clashes between renegade troops of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and a combined force of BGF and Burmese army units.
Most Karen villagers took refuge at makeshift displacement camps set up in Myaing Gyi Ngu, while others reportedly took shelter some 70 kilometres south in state capital Hpa-an.
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed in a report on 22 September that it and its sister organisation Myanmar Red Cross Society had provided humanitarian assistance to around 4,000 persons in Myaing Gyi Ngu.
About 50 IDPs to date have headed back to their homes in Maethawaw, but a local headman told DVB he believed it was still not safe to return.
“I don’t think it is safe [for IDPs] to return to the village at the moment due to the threat of landmines,” said headman Myat Soe.
The BGF said it will prioritise demining in hillside farms which are crucial to the livelihood of the locals.
Meanwhile, Burmese military mouthpiece Myawady News has conceded that government forces have endured casualties, including commanding officers, in the recent conflict.
The newspaper said on Thursday that 19 clashes had occurred between the DKBA renegades and government forces between 11 and 21 September. Though it did not provide a number of Burmese soldiers killed or injured, it claimed that four DKBA renegade fighters, including an officer, were killed while another officer was captured alive.
The report said government soldiers had also seized seven firearms, two trucks, a motor cart, four bikes and 1,179 bullets from the rebels.
The Burmese military accused the DKBA renegades of targeting civilians in Myawady and Kawkareit townships, as well as villages in Maethawaw, in an attempt to distract Burmese army columns advancing on their positions.
The report said that government troops on 19 September successfully dispersed all DKBA renegade outposts along the Myaing Gyi Ngu-Maethawaw Road.