Landmines continue to kill in Yunnan Province

Source:Global Times Published: 2011-5-19 17:27:00

\A skull and crossbones mark an area yet to be de-mined. Photo: Liang Ruoqiao/GT

By Liang Ruoqiao in Yunnan

Deep in the jungles of Yunnan Province, where wild elephants roam and villagers maintain their ancient and distinct cultures, a modern-day, man-made peril continues to maim and sometimes kill. 

The thinly populated rolling hills along China's southern border with Vietnam remains littered with landmines and other discarded weapons of war, 20 years after a bloody border conflict between the two countries was resolved. 

So far this year three men have lost limbs and suffered serious injury in three different incidences after their missteps exploded long-dormant and long-forgotten ordnance.  

Tao Xincai, lost his foot when he stepped on a landmine while digging in his field last March. In January, Pan Yuncong's suffered injuries to his chest and face when a long-buried hand grenade exploded while he was working his land, and last month Deng Guangxin's left shin was shattered after he stepped on a mine.  

Two of the three men are members of the Yao ethnic minority and all are the heads of their farming households in the remote county of Malipo in southwest Yunnan Province. 

"They were all innocent people, the war had nothing to do with them yet they continue to suffer," said Wan Mingfen, a secretary of the county's Civil Affairs Bureau who formerly worked with many victims of landmine explosions. "I couldn't help but cry after I saw their calluses and swollen stumps," Wan said. "I've seen a lot of victims of accidents but the arms and legs lost to unexploded weapons are so shocking."

Malipo county shares a 277-kilometer long border with Vietnam, which during the 1980s was one of three major battlefronts in the border conflict between China and Vietnam, which exploded into violence in 1979. The military conflict wasn't resolved until 1991, said Li Tao, deputy chair of the Disabled Persons Federation of Malipo.

Li told the Global Times that weapons left over from the war have disabled 14,398 civilians. To date landmines have injured 1,113 civilians. 

Li said less than a third of the local residents who were maimed by lost and forgotten weapons receive "war-related" benefits. The majority of the other victims have been disqualified from benefits because they shared some responsibility for the accidents that injured them by entering restricted areas that haven't been de-mined or by trying to collect materials from unexploded weapons. 

From Yunnan's provincial capital, Kunming, it takes an eight-hour bus ride along switchback mountain roads carved into spectacular, lush mountains to reach Malipo's county seat. The valleys and hills are terraced with small plots of cultivated land where exotic fruits and spices in the sub-tropical region.

Another four hours down the road nestled in a steep-walled valley is the village of Bajiaoping, Li Liulan's ancestral home. She vividly recalls at least part of the winter afternoon in 1993 when she lost both her legs above the knee. "My mom was calling me to hurry home when I stepped on a slab stone on a path I had taken a thousand times. I lost consciousness after that." 

Li and her three elder brothers were growing the pungent spice cardamom in their field that had been the scene of a 10-year standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese.  

Liu's doctor told her that the powerful explosion ripped apart her left leg while the heavy stone slab destroyed her right leg. She was discharged from the hospital just over 30 days later.

Before the accident, Liu was a happy 16-year-old student, her obvious beauty captured in a faded photograph snapped by a military photographer near her school. "That's me," said Liu pointing to a fresh-faced girl in a black and white photo. She's seen hiding behind a tree, wearing with two dangling braids and a big smile. 

Liu married a man 15 years her senior and the couple have a 3-year daughter. Liu reports as simple matter of fact that her once-divorced husband comes from a smaller, poorer town than her own and that he likes to drink too much.  

Liu remains a rosy-cheeked, vibrant beauty. She carried no hint of remorse or sadness on the day this reporter visited her modest home. Strikingly, her sparsely furnished bedroom includes a neatly arranged row of many pairs of shoes. 

All but one pair belongs to her husband and daughter. She rarely changes the shoes on her prosthesis, she said.


Despite losing both of her legs, Liu Liulan still remains mobile and active.

She now lives on a pension of just 225 yuan ($34) a month and works recycling garbage. "The benefit is much higher than it was," Liu said, her face blushing in the mid-day heat. When she first began to collect the benefit it was 25 yuan a month. Like shoes prostheses wear out

The county's Civil Affairs Bureau determines who receives the war-related disability benefit. There are three levels of benefits offered to those who have been disabled and each receives different level of service. The Red Cross and the Disable Persons' Federation also provide benefits to the disabled. 

"All prostheses are distributed free of charge," said Li from the Disable Persons' Federation. "Crutches and wheel chairs are also free."

"There is still a major lack of funding." Li said describing how the federation had distributed 120 wheelchairs this year and he was scrambling to find another. "Just last week, somebody told me someone was in urgent need of one."

Finding and fitting artificial limbs is not Li's only service. "Just like shoes, artificial limbs wear out and need repairing," said Li. The Civil Affairs Bureau allocates up to 8,000 yuan ($1,230) per person for repairs and transportation and Li's federation helps disabled farmers get a proper fitting at the factory in city of Wenshen, the seat of the autonomous prefecture. 

Many of the prostheses and repair services are provided to disabled residents of Malipo county under a charity agreement with Shanghai's Zhabei District government. 8.1% living with a disability

The per capita GDP of Malipo county was just 9,149 yuan in 2010, making it one of the poorest counties in the country. However, it likely leads the country in the number of handicapped residents. A total of 22,230 people, or 8.1 percent of Malipo's population, are living with disabilities, almost 30 percent higher than the 2009 national average of 6.34 percent of the population. 

"The landmine accidents are like an unpredictable natural disaster," said Li who notes that 96 percent of the county's handicapped are from rural families and the undiscovered and unexploded weapons "are making life for villagers in former war zones even more difficult." Forty percent of the rural population of 275,000 comes from seven ethnic minorities.  

Doctor Zhang Yuanzhi is the director and a surgeon at the only hospital that can perform amputations on Malipo County. He was reluctant to discuss the number of amputees who have been treated at the hospital saying he couldn't remember how many he had performed during his 10-year tenure. Zhang says the number of victims of unexploded weapons is on the decline. 

Records show that in 2006, 15 explosions of long-lost ordnance hurt 18 people. In 2007, there were 16 incidents hurting 17; 10 incidents hurt 11 people in 2008; six incidents in 2009 hurt five people; and four incidents in 2010 hurt four. There have three victims in three incidences so far this year.

Like numerous other countries with powerful militaries, China has not signed the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, also know as The Ottawa Treaty. Other non-signatories include the United States, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan and Egypt. 

Currently 156 states have signed the treaty, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). The ICBL is a global network in over 90 countries that works for a world free of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. It is also the co-laureate of 1999 Nobel Peace Prize.

"China has not yet joined the mine ban treaty, but we appreciate its humanitarianism," notes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.


A busy market is opened near the Vietnamese border after the landmines are cleared.Photos: Liang Ruoqiao/GT

There have been two massive de-mining campaigns in Yunnan according to an article written by two professors of the Xuzhou-based Institute of Engineering Corps under the People's Liberation Army. For six months in 1992, 626 officers and soldiers cleared 280,000 landmines and 120,000 grenades and other unexploded weapons. A second de-mining sweep lasting from December 1997 to March 1999 cleared 750,000 land mines and other explosives.

Despite the effort there are still dangerous areas that are off limits and marked by eerie stone tablets that warn "Landmines Danger!" 

The young multiple amputee and mother Liu Liulan was injured at the time of the first de-mining campaign. When she was discharged from the hospital, the local television station reported on her return to her home village and she still receives visits from journalists from time to time.

It's been 17 years and Liu has worn out five pairs of prosthesis. She's still pretty and obviously in the prime of life but said she'll never wear a skirt again. 

More than a decade has passed since the last de-mining troops left Yunnan and many villagers hope they return to finish the job and ensure no one else losing a limb or their life. 

Source: Landmine Monitor, 1999, 

Posted in: In-Depth

blog comments powered by Disqus