The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War

 
 

Landmines have been commonly used by both sides of what has been described as the world’s longest running civil war between the Myanmar government and Karen ethnic rebels. While the Karen typically plant homemade mines that degrade after a couple of years, the Myanmar military often uses Chinese mines made out of a plastic polymer that takes decades to degrade and cannot be picked up by ordinary metal detectors.

Today, even in areas where the fighting has subsided since the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire in 2012, landmines still linger beneath the ground, waiting for victims.

Because Karen State is known to have some of the worst health care in the world, many landmine victims must travel across the Thai-Myanmar border to seek treatment. Within the refugee camps along the border, some facilities – like the Care Villa for the Blind – provide shelter for landmine victims.

Meanwhile, on the Thai side of the border in Mae Sot, places like the Mae Tao Clinic’s Prosthetics Workshop provide treatment completely free of charge. The founder of the clinic, Maw Keh, is a landmine victim himself. A former guerrilla with the KNU, Keh lost his leg during an offensive against Myanmar’s military. Though he moved to Australia in 2014, Keh is proud to have started a workshop that serves patients from both sides of the conflict. “We don’t care who is our enemy, who is our friend, who is civilian,” he says.

The following photos, taken at the Mae Tao Clinic and Care Villa for the Blind, provide a visual look at the human cost of landmines in Myanmar.

The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
A boy picks at his bandage while his father patiently waits with him for treatment at the Mae Tao Prosthetics Clinic. Like many other landmine victims, the boy came from another part of Myanmar and was unaware that the forests on the border are littered with landmines.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
Mae Keh, the now-retired director and founder of Mae Tao Prosthetics Clinic, shows a boy who is eager to walk with his new prosthetics how to properly use them. Keh, who used to be a guerrilla with the Karen National Liberation Army, says that this clinic was the best way he could serve his people after losing his leg in combat.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
A technician at Mae Tao Prosthetics Clinic puts the finishing touches on a new prosthetic leg. The vast majority of their patients are landmine victims — though some suffer from congenital disease or motor vehicle accidents.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
A technician, who is himself a landmine victim, sets a new prosthetic mold for a patient. Maw Keh, the clinic’s founder, says that their prosthetics are better because so many of the people who make them — including Keh — are landmine victims who understand from experience the details required to make a superior prosthetic leg.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
A technician at the Mae Tao Prosthetics Clinic - also a landmine victim - prepares the prosthetic molding for a boy who lost both his legs to a landmine blast. Prosthetics often have to be remolded in order to make sure they fit comfortably and do not chafe the skin or even bone, which can cause debilitating injury.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
The Care Villa for the Blind, which shelters blind people who are mostly landmine victims, provides residents with a modest income by working farm fields nearby. The Care Villa is located inside Thailand’s sprawling Mae La Refugee Camp, the largest of a number of refugee camps dotting the Thai-Myanmar border.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
Residents of the Care Villa for the Blind, a shelter for the blind where most people are landmine victims, take a break from working in the fields. Most of the residents at Care Villa were once combatants in the decades-long civil war between ethnic Karen rebels and Myanmar’s military, which has mostly been quelled by a cease-fire in 2012.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
The Landmine Victims of Myanmar’s Civil War
A resident of the Care Villa for the Blind, who lost his arms and eyesight while handling a landmine, speaks on the phone. Both the ethnic insurgent rebels and Myanmar military are known for the widespread use of landmines in their decades long conflict. While the Karen rebels are known for making homemade landmines that degrade after one year, Myanmar’s military uses Chinese-made mines that last for years and are much more difficult to detect.
Image Credit: Arthur Nazaryan
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