Junta’s Landmine Legacy

July 30th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  11 minute read
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“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, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Deputy Director

The Myanmar military junta’s war against the people of Myanmar continues, as they announced that they had executed four men, including two prominent democracy activists, Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zeya Thaw over the weekend. In the central dryzone, meanwhile, atrocities continue as just last week a dozen dead bodies were found in two villages in Sagaing Region after they were raided by military troops. The cruel executions of the four men and the massacre in Sagaing are yet more examples of the disregard for human life that the junta has in its desperate, and failing, attempts to take power. However, as a recent report by Amnesty International has shown, and supported by documentation by local human rights and documentation groups, the legacy of this brutal violence will remain for years to come, in the form of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in civilian areas, killing and maiming indiscriminately.

Ko Jimmy, and Phyo Zeya Thaw had been arrested in late 2021 and sentenced to death in January 2022 under the Counterterrorism Law, accused of plotting attacks on the military, while Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were sentenced to death in June 2022 for allegedly murdering military informers. These innocent men were being punished for their opposition to the brutal military’s coup attempt and their subsequent executions are clearly designed to evoke fear in a population that is bravely resisting the Myanmar military and its violent, attempts to take power. And while these were the first executions in over 30 years, there are concerns that the junta will not stop at these four, as there remain 74 people in detention, including nine women, who are facing the death sentence and a further 41 who were sentenced in absentia.

The immediate horror that the executions have elicited are deeply painful for the population of Myanmar, as well as the immediate families of these martyrs. The cruelty of the junta, however, is not just in short-term acts like these horrendous extrajudicial killings, and the legacy of landmines will be a danger for the communities across Myanmar for future generations too. A report released by Amnesty International documents the widespread use of landmines by the military junta in and around 20 villages in three townships in Karenni State, the scene of some of the most brutal offensives by the junta. The type of mines laid – M-14 and MM-2 – are manufactured by the military and are banned under international humanitarian law as well as the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. They kill and maim indiscriminately, as the report documents, and the laying of these mines in civilian areas, including around farmer’s fields, people’s houses, villages, and churches, shows the total disregard for human life. As stated by Amnesty Internationals’ Crisis Response Deputy Director, “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.” The Karenni Human Rights Group has been documenting the numbers of people killed or seriously injured by these landmines in Karenni State since 1 February 2021, with the number reaching at least 20.

While Amnesty International’s report focuses on one particular area, the use of landmines is pervasive throughout the country. A spokesperson for the Chin Human Rights Organization told Radio Free Asia that landmines in Chin State “are planted purposely” and that “the death toll from civilian casualties has risen sharply.” The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), has documented the junta’s use of landmines in their recent offensives in Karen State. Not only does this put people at risk of injury or death, but it also means that villagers cannot attend to their livestock or their crops, thus worsening an economic and food crisis that the junta is solely to blame for. While safety handbooks and other forms of mine risk education created by local and international organizations can help villagers respond to suspected landmines, given the increasing use of landmines, local people are swimming against the tide. It must also be noted that while PDFs and ethnic revolutionary organizations also use landmines to defend against junta attacks, the scale is not comparable and the vast majority are planted by the Myanmar military.

Added to the landmines are the unexploded ordnance, or unexploded remnants of war (ERW). UNICEF has reported that 115 children have been killed or maimed by landmines or unexploded ordnance (UXO) since the failed coup attempt of 1 February last year. As the report states, “Since children are smaller than adults, they are more likely to take the full impact of the blast and are therefore more likely to suffer death or serious injury.” UNICEF has documented death or injury – 162 people killed or injured in the first five months of 2022 – throughout the country, and especially so in Sagaing Region and Shan and Kachin States.

As with much of the junta’s violence, it must not be forgotten that the use of landmines and the risks posed by UXO is part of long-standing patterns of abuse, particularly in ethnic, conflict-affected areas. For example, an elderly woman in Rakhine State was killed in May 2022 after stepping on a landmine while foraging for plants. This was an area that the Myanmar military had previously occupied during clearance operations against the Arakan Army in 2019 and is likely a remnant of that previous conflict. A KHRG report, released in January 2021 just before the coup attempt explains how every township in the southeast of Myanmar was already contaminated by landmines. They recorded seven instances of injury or death in the southeast of the country due to civilians stepping on landmines in the 12 months preceding the coup attempt. At the time, they analyzed that such instances “pose a threat to villagers and to disrupt their ability to travel and secure their livelihoods; and remains one of the major obstacles to the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

The use of landmines can be seen as a tool of the Myanmar military’s “four cuts” strategy, in which they try to defeat ethnic armed organizations’ links to local civilian populations by cutting off the supply of food, funding, recruits and intelligence. The use of landmines means that it is harder for the connections to be made between a civilian population that overwhelmingly opposes the junta, and the armed resistance organizations that are key parts of those communities. This “four cuts” policy, which is based on a strategy originally developed by the British to counteract the communist insurgency in 1950s Malaya, has been used in ethnic areas for decades and landmines are a manifestation of this strategy that has a disproportionate impact on civilians.

Deploying landmines as part of a four cuts strategy is thus not a new phenomenon, but a scaled up strategy used in desperation by a flailing military junta. However, they are a particularly inhumane weapon given the high probability that civilians, and very often children, are the victims. Just earlier this month KHRG documented a case of a four year old boy who had to have his legs amputated in Nyaunglebin District after stepping on a landmine. They are indiscriminate and furthermore, given the difficulty in finding and eradicating landmines and UXO, they will form a legacy of this period of extreme violence, no matter when the Spring Revolution succeeds.

The executions of these democracy activists, the massacres of innocent people in villages opposing the military, and the litany of other crimes against humanity they have been committing with blanket impunity are yet more examples of the total disregard of human life that the military has for anyone that opposes them. It is also a reminder, if it was at all needed, that compromise or accommodation of this murderous military institution will not end the violence it commits against innocent people every day. Rather, it is imperative that the international community, and in particular the UN Security Council, mobilizes to impose targeted sanctions and a global arms embargo against the junta while pursuing justice through international accountability mechanisms by referring the situation of Myanmar to the  International Criminal Court or establish an ad hoc tribunal.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Southeast Asian MPs urge ASEAN Special Envoy to Myanmar to meet National Unity Government

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

MPs denounce lack of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar ahead of International Parliamentary Inquiry’s fourth hearing

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Blood Money Campaign Condemns the Irresponsible Exit of French Company, TotalEnergies, from Myanmar’s Yadana Gas Project

By Blood Money Campaign

BROUK Welcomes Decision By ICJ – British Government Must Now Join The Case

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Statement on the ICJ’s Rejection of Preliminary Objections in Rohingya Genocide Case

By Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

World Court Rejects Myanmar Objections to Genocide Case

By Human Rights Watch

Myanmar: TotalEnergies Withdraws; Junta Gains

By Human Rights Watch

Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar): The Court finds that it has jurisdiction to entertain the Application filed by the The Gambia, and that the Application is admissible

By International Court of Justice

Reaction to the ruling by the International Court of Justice to reject Myanmar’s preliminary objections – Statement by Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Australian Embassy spent US$525,000+ at Myanmar military linked LOTTE Hotel since coup attempt

By Justice For Myanmar

Statement in condemnation of escalation of violence in Southeast Burma

By Karen Human Rights Group

Support Gambia for the Rohingya Genocide Case at the International Court of Jusice (ICJ): An Urgent Need for More Strategic Measures and Political Will to End the Long Decades of Rohingya Genocide

By Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization in Malaysia

Statement by Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations at the UN Security Council Open Debate on “Children and Armed Conflict”

By Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the United Nations

ICJ Judgement on Preliminary Objections Welcome, But Court Must Rectify Myanmar’s Representation and More States Must Intervene in the Case

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

Myanmar economy remains fragile, with reform reversals weakening the outlook

By The World Bank

TotalEnergies Has Definitively Withdrawn from Myanmar

By TotalEnergies

Statement on the International Court of Justice’s Ruling on the Preliminary Objections from The Gambia v. Myanmar

By Women’s Peace Network



Myanmar: Military’s use of banned landmines in Kayah State amounts to war crimes

By Amnesty International

SAC regime unleashes war across the southern Dawna Range

By Karen Peace Support Network

Burning Myanmar

By Myanmar Witness

Moso Village Christmas Eve Killings

By Myanmar Witness

Using Pamphlets for Propaganda Misinformation Intimidation and Division

By Myanmar Witness

Myanmar Economic Monitor, July 2022: Reforms Reversed [EN/MY]

By The World Bank

Burma and Bangladesh – Regional Crisis Response Fact Sheet #5, Fiscal Year (FY) 2022

By United States Agency for International Development

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