A group of young people was cutting the grass in the compound of a Baptist Church on a Saturday evening in March, in Mountain Village, Mawchi Township, Kayah State.
Some used hoes and an edger but some youths used their hands to remove long grass. They were kidding each other and laughing. It was an idyllic scene.
The reverie halted abruptly, however, when an undetected landmine exploded in the midst of the young people, to everyone’s surprise and horror. Soe Moe, a local villager, lost his right leg. He is 26 years old.
"There was to be a Christian service day on Sunday. They usually clean the church compound on Saturday but nobody ever stepped on a landmine. Nobody was ever hurt," Htoo Reh told Kantarawaddy Times in a recent interview.
On March 3, the Burmese Army’s Maj. Ko Ko Oo, Commander of IB 134, officially announced landmines were placed 30 yards away from their outposts at Htinshu Mountain (Fir mountain), Tawatainthar and Kyauk Taung, which is located very close to the church where the mine exploded on March 24th.
"Other youths attempted to carry him after the explosion. But, Burmese soldiers in the adjacent military compound shouted at them that there were many other landmines in the immediate area. So, the youths were afraid to carry him," Htoo Reh said.
Ko Soe Moe, was sent to hospital in Mawchi after the explosion and to Hpar Saung Hospital the next day, according to Htoo Reh.
"They don't need to place landmines in this area because no Karenni soldiers come here. The village is located inside Burma (not the border area). Only we villagers live here," he added.
According to statistics from the organization Mine Risk Education (MRE), based on the Thai border, 55 civilians living in Karenni State and on the Thai-Karenni border, were killed or injured by landmines from 1978 to 2011.
"We have facts. We interviewed disabled people injured by landmines, and the relatives of people killed by landmines. We only record the cases with complete information. If we cannot get complete information, we don't make a record of the incident," MRE’s Lay Reh Soe explained.
Burmese soldiers use to place M-14 type landmines and touch landmines in Mawchi and the border area.
However, not only villagers were injured or killed. Cows and buffalos were killed and injured by landmines around the Htinshu Mountain area.
"Cows and buffalos from Kaw Tudoh, Bulaw Pel, Leh Lawhti, Lo Hkarlo, Maw Hser Khe villages in Mawchi Township use to step on landmines on every 2-3 days. Local people cannot do anything (to stop it)," the Mawchi resident said.
The Burmese Army regularly places landmines around their military camps and outposts, as well as around the base of electricity poles and towers, IDP hiding places, and areas used for the movement of Karenni troops.
“Landmines use to be placed in the areas we cannot protect. But, I think they placed landmines in the church property because they want villagers to blame us," Saw Htee Htar Suae, a spokesperson for the Karenni Army's Battalion no.1, said.
According to the Karenni Development and Research Group (KDRG), the Burmese Army placed 18,000 landmines around the Lawpita Hydropower Plant, in Loikaw Township, and over 2,000 more along the Thai-Karenni border.
According to Burmese deserters, who surrendered to the Karenni Army, accurate records of the exact placement of mines are not kept by Burmese troops, which makes it impossible to know where they are or to remove the mines. So, there are many abandoned landmines in Karenni State.
According to KDRG, there are over 100,000 landmines in Karenni State, a number equal to one-third of its population. So, people have faced many difficulties travelling to work and from place to place.
Mawchi residents grow rice and cardamom plants and some work in a lead mine.
“I don't know how to live safely in our village because Burmese soldiers have placed landmines both outside and inside the village. I don't know how we can survive,” Htoo Reh, said sadly.
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