Chinese authorities have begun removing landmines along the border between southwestern Yunnan province and Myanmar, according to ethnic Chinese living on the Myanmar side.
A committee that runs the Kokang Autonomous Region in northern Myanmar, an ethnic Chinese enclave just across the border from Yunnan, warned local residents that China would be carrying out demining operations, starting Sept. 1.
The area being demined is on the Chinese side of the No. 121-122 boundary markers near Yunnan’s Nansan township, and near the No. 112-113 boundary markers behind Bengkong village, Mengdui township, the notice said.
“Please don’t panic if you hear explosions,” the committee’s notice said. “In order to avoid accidents, please stay away from the above-mentioned areas.”
A Twitter post from ethnic Chinese residents of Kokang also carried the warning, saying the operations would continue through Oct. 31.
The demining operations came after Chinese authorities closed the border as part of efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19. China has built a barbed-wire fence spanning around 1,000 km (620 miles) between Ruili, Lijiang, and the Gaoligong mountains in Yunnan, seen as a bid to stem the free flow of goods and people between the two countries.
Repeated calls to the Zhenkang county government stability maintenance bureau and the township government in Nansan rang unanswered during office hours on Monday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Nansan No. 1 Guesthouse said that military personnel are currently engaged in demining operations in the area, however.
“Yes,” the employee said, when asked to confirm the reports, but had no further information to offer.
Landmines and international law
YouTuber Lin Linqi said he was shocked that the Chinese government had planted landmines — a weapon of war — on its own soil, apparently targeting civilians.
“Basically, landmines can’t distinguish between soldiers and civilians, and that principle of distinction is a basic requirement of international humanitarian law,” Lin said. “What’s more, the damage done by landmines is particularly severe.”
The production, development, use, storage and sale of anti-personnel landmines were banned under a 1999 international convention on the comprehensive ban on anti-personnel mines, known as the Treaty of Ottawa.
China hasn’t signed the Treaty, but voted in 2005 in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution on implementing it.
A current affairs commentator who gave only the surname Zeng said the use of landmines is in violation of international law.
“It is an immoral act to use landmines against your own citizens on your own soil, in peacetime,” Zeng said. “This is probably because of the very large numbers of people moving back and forth informally across the border between Myanmar and China.”
“It was hard for them to control that border.”
Cutting off religious exchanges
According to the U.N., landmines kill 15,000 to 20,000 people every year, most of whom are children, women and the elderly, with even more people severely injured every year.
A person familiar with the situation who gave only the surname Zhang said the authorities claim that the border fence was to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but that they are likely more concerned with religious contacts across the border.
Photos posted to the social media platform Weibo in July 2021 showed the fence snaking across a mountainous region near Ruili, with lights along it during the hours of darkness.
The Gaoligong mountain range straddles the 2,000-km (1,240-mile) border between China and Myanmar, rising to more than 5,000 meters (yards) above sea level.
Ethnic minority groups whose traditional homelands are on both sides of the border would use lesser-known paths through the mountainous border region to cross into Myanmar, sometimes to smuggle goods, but also to learn about Christianity or Buddhism, according to an interview with Zhang in July.
The fence had blocked off the routes used for underground religious contact with Chinese nationals, he said, adding that the CCP is also worried that a roaring arms trade linked to ongoing ethnic armed conflict in Myanmar means that weapons are finding their way across the border, and into the hands of Chinese citizens.
Twenty-five counties in Yunnan province share a border with Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, along a a 4,060-km (2,500-mile) stretch of China’s national border in the region.
The China-Myanmar border measures nearly 2,000 km (1,240-mile) with the Sino-Vietnamese border running to more than 1,000 km (620 miles).
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.