AUGUST 9 — Modern-day mine warfare is an enduring reality in Myanmar. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor (LCMM), Myanmar has the third biggest number of landmine victims in the world, after Colombia and Afghanistan. It was reported in 2014 that Myanmar, North Korea and Syria are still deploying landmines. Thousands of civilians in Myanmar are still being killed or maimed from mine explosions. The Monitor reported that between 1999 and 2014, 3,745 people were injured from landmines and 396 died from their injuries.
The actual number is much higher since Myanmar does not have official data on mine-related accidents. Moreover, the government refused to acknowledge that the country has a landmine issue until February 2012. Some local organisations have gathered data on landmine-related accidents but there is no systematic and planned system. Many landmine-related incidents simply go unreported.
Landmines are a touchy subject due to their affiliation with the military and national security. The military considers them an asset rather than a deadly device. Internal armed conflict between the Tatmadaw, the state’s armed forces, and ethnic groups has been ongoing for decades. Mine warfare has been a major component of the conflict where a large swath of land is contaminated with landmines.
The military is not the only one who has deployed landmines. Even non-state armed groups have planted landmines to safeguard base areas and supply lines. In 2011 to 2012, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) planted landmines to fend off state forces. As a result, Karen and Karenni states and the Bago Region have some of the highest concentration of landmines in the country. Even the Kachin and Shan states in the north are heavily mined which reflects the geography of rebel warfare.
More than five million people live in landmines concentrated areas, including those on the shared border with Thailand. The extent of the landmine problem has both primary and indirect consequences on these communities. Landmines are known to be the “perfect soldier” since they are cheap explosives that secretly wait for their victim to step on them. They are indiscriminate and victim-operated which makes them no different from other weapons. In Myanmar, most victims are villagers who go farming or fishing and end up stepping on mines. Those who are injured by landmines end up becoming a burden on their families since they are unable to work and require extensive medical help. Their presence also has strong psychological effects on victims and their communities. Furthermore, the treat of its presence can impede development and economic prospects. The chance of landmines can prevent civilians from using that land for farming or travelling to another village.
A number of ceasefires have been enacted that have addressed the landmine issue. The first ceasefire brokered in 2012 was part of the nationwide peace talks. This led to a reduction in the stockpiling of landmines. In 2015, the government proposed another ceasefire which decreased the fighting and dropped the use of mines. In the same year, the government and eight rebel armies agreed to a nationwide ceasefire. However, the ceasefire was not effective in the north where fighting with other rebel armies such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has increased and new landmines have been deployed.
The Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Convention) is aimed to eradicate the use of landmines, makes requirements for mine clearance and provides victim assistance. The Convention, aimed to eradicate the humanitarian landmine crisis, is in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The ICBL, an international coalition of NGOs, helped navigate the Ottawa Convention through global collaboration in the humanitarian mine action effort.
In July 2012, Myanmar considered joining the Mine Ban Treaty. However in November 2012, the former President Thein Sein said at the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) summit, “I believe that for defence purpose, we need to use landmines in order to safeguard the life and property of people and self-defence.”
There seems to be political will with the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has previously endorsed the Convention. However the NLD lacks control over the country’s military. The NLD has also shown desire to stop using landmines in the country’s armed conflict with ethnic rebel armies. In June 2016, an NLD member told the Monitor that his party will support a ban on the use of landmines.
However, the Deputy Minister of Defense Major General Myint Nwe said that the military will carry on using landmines as a device in the country’s internal armed warfare since even non-state insurgent groups are using landmines. Most recently, the government said it was reviewing its approach on the Mine Ban Treaty but it has not signaled any move to ratify it.
Moreover, there is still no general consensus on what to do with the landmine crisis. Experts argue that there should be more discourse and discussion to lay down the framework of mine clearing, risk education and victim support. NGOs and other international organisations are unhappy that they are not able to clear landmines. They have been unable to clear any landmine since 2012. They have pointed out there many places can be cleared without undermining national security.
There are also insufficient resources in the country as well. The Hpa-an Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Centre in Karen state has beenassisting landmine victims. The centre, which opened in 2003, is almost entirely funded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The clinic has helped its patients to fit around 7,000 prosthetic limbs where approximately two-thirds of those have gone to landmine victims.
The landmine scourge will continue to terrorise civilians including children. Landmines are similar to other conventional weapons that do not differentiate between war and peace. The existing resources for landmine victims are evidently insufficient. The government will need to provide greater livelihood assistance, psychosocial support and socioeconomic reintegration to survivors.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or organisation and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.