Deadly Soil: Burma’s Enduring Landmine Tragedy

Increased militarization by the Burmese army in Karen state in recent months has further imperiled communities already at risk of injury or death by landmines, in a country described by a 2011 report by the humanitarian organization Geneva Call as “one of the most heavily landmine-contaminated countries on earth.”

The report, titled Humanitarian Impact of Landmines in Burma/Myanmar, estimates that as many as five million people live in townships that contain landmines.

A lack of transparency by the Burmese government and the difficulty in acquiring details about landmines make accurate data difficult to obtain, but community organizations operating in Burma attempt to gather what information is available and educate villagers on the dangers posed by landmines.

Saw Pah Dah, 29, is one of nine mine risk educators who work in Karen State for the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP).

He and his colleagues provide risk education to villagers in some of the worst landmine-affected areas of Karen State. Saw Pah Dah said most villagers want to know how to treat landmine victims.

“We teach villagers how to identify mines, tell them not to touch them or go near them, make warning signs and fence the area if they can. We also teach first aid and make casts of amputees’ limbs so we can make prosthetics to give them when we return.”

Saw Pah Dah said Karen villagers are at risk not only from landmines placed by the Burmese army but by Karen opposition forces from the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

“Most victims don’t know whose landmines blew them up,” he said. “The Burma army uses mainly factory-made mines. The KNLA tend to use homemade mines. This is not to say homemade mines are blameless; they also maim.”

Karen National Union Vice President Saw David Thakabaw said the KNLA, unlike the Burmese army, does not target civilian populations.

“If the Burma army stopped attacking our people and tried to reach a peaceful resolution with us to end this war, the KNU would not use mines,” he said. “We want an end to this war. We want to solve our problems by political means.”

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