The boy screamed in agony as the landmine exploded, ripping his foot off. Behind him, the church burned. What was once a peaceful Karenni village has now been torn apart by the marauding Burma Army. Troops from Division 66 have been attacking this village all week. The villagers are hiding in the mountains behind the village and we have come to know them well over the last several days. Each day they pray their village is not burned. Each day they hear the sounds of shooting and shelling and watch helplessly as their homes are burned in the valley below. The local Karenni forces are made up of volunteers who have banded together to try to push the Burma Army out before they burn all the homes. One of the volunteers was a Karenni boy, 16 years old, who wanted his home back.
The Burma Army has been burning villages and killing villagers at a speed and a force we have not seen before. Here in the village of Daw Nye Ku, all the villagers have fled but the Burma Army is burning homes and on June 15, they burned the new church. We watched from a distance, unable to get close as the Burma Army fired all around. Local volunteers, the People’s Defense Forces (PDF), and the Karenni Army tried to push the Burma Army out and save the town. We had set up a forward casualty collection point and went closer to the front line to find a route so we could help if people were wounded. On the way we came under intense machine gun, rifle, RPG, and M-79 grenade fire. None of us were hit and the Karenni forces were able to push the Burma Army back out of the village temporarily. We entered and saw the church on fire. It gave me a sick feeling to watch the beautiful church that had just been built, now burning. The roof collapsed and flames licked around what remained of the doors. We knew the Burma Army placed land mines in villages they occupied so we were watching our feet as we went in to film the burning church.
As we got close to the church I saw that they had also shot up a cross just outside the church. I stopped looking for landmines in the ground and took a step forward to take a photo. One of our Ranger teammates, nicknamed Cobra, stepped up behind me and passed me on the side. When he turned to come back to me, a villager who was with us shouted, ”Stop! Landmine!” He pointed down and there I could see the mine clearly, about a foot away from where I had just stepped, and less than an inch away from the heel print of Cobra’s boot as he stepped over it. The villager had also stepped over it without seeing it but when he turned around he saw it.
His alertness saved our legs and maybe our lives. We reinforced to everyone: “Watch out, there are landmines here.” We took photos of the M-14 Burma Army anti-personnel mine, marked it with a branch, and warned away the Karenni volunteers. We then carefully retraced our steps out of the church compound and told everybody where the landmine was and said there were probably more. We reassembled our team in the road and told the commander that we had found a mine and we thought there were more. We then started to walk back to our CCP. Just as we started to walk away we heard an explosion, then a scream of pain and anguish. We went back to the church and there are on the ground was a young Karenni volunteer, 16 years old. His foot was completely gone and his lower leg was a mangled mess. He moaned and I could hear in his voice not just pain but the anguished realization that he had lost his foot forever. He had stepped an a different mine than the one we had seen and we again realized that the Burma Army had seeded this yard with destruction.
Our medic Peter, and team member Klo Law La Say, and one of the friends of the boy moved carefully forward as Cobra and I followed. Medic Peter and Klo Law La Say put on a tourniquet and begin to work on his leg. I moved carefully, checking for more mines and worked on his other leg which was intact but also injured. I held his hand before I bandaged him and prayed with him. I asked him his name he said his name was David. I told him that wasmy name too. I prayed for him and then went to work on his leg and helped Peter and Klo Law Law Say bandage the stump. We asked the commander to send a vehicle and then carried the boy out. We carefully retraced our steps by the burning church and out of the compound. We loaded the boy onto the commander’s vehicle and he sent them to our casualty collection point. Burma Army mortars came in but they were not close. We walked back to our casualty collection point but by the time we got there, the boy had been treated and sent on to a field hospital in the jungle.
The fighting intensified again as the Burma Army counterattacked to drive the Karenni out of their village. The fighting is going on as I make this report. I’m grateful for the villager who saved Cobra and me. I’m grateful for the bravery of our team as they went through the minefield to save this boy. I am grateful for our team back at the casualty collection point who took care of this boy and sent him on to the hospital. I’m grateful for all of your prayers and help. I’m grateful that we have a chance to help this boy and we will do our best to get him a good prosthesis and support any decision he wants to make for his future. I’m grateful for you all who care about people being killed, maimed, chased, their churches burned and homes destroyed. We thank God that they and we are not alone in this.
Thank you for helping us all here in Burma.
Free Burma Rangers