The menace of landmine fatalities in Myanmar

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[dropcap color=”#dd9933″]A[/dropcap] short piece of news from Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) concerning the landmine fatalities in Kachin and Shan States, which have the highest number of casualty in Myanmar within 2017-2018,  among 14 states and regions, was reported by the Shan State Minister of Bamar Affairs Dr Aung Than Maung, at the coordination ceremony on raising landmine awareness held at the Myanmar Medical Council office on June 25.

According to him, 604 people have been injured and 95 people have been killed by landmines in Myanmar from 2014 to April 2018 and 3,745 people have been killed or injured by landmines from 1999 to 2014.

This statistics is obtained from the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) and some casualties have not been recorded, according to him. Myanmar ranks third on the list of highest landmine fatalities in the world and ranks fourth place on the list of people disabled by landmines in Southeast Asia.

Casualties recorded by Landmines and Cluster Munition Monitor at the end of 2016 totaled 3,991 (488 killed; 3,385 injured; 118 unknown) since 1999. Past reporting by the Monitor has indicated that there are a significant number of military casualties, but such military records remain unavailable to the public.

The 2016 casualties by device type reported were 222 antipersonnel mines/improvised mine (victim-activated improvised explosive devices, IEDs); 3 antivehicle mine; 1 explosive remnants of war (ERW); and 72 undifferentiated mines/ERW, according to the Monitor.

According to the United Nations Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), based on data compiled by the Landmine Monitor, location of reported casualties 2007-2017 are Kachin State 26%, Shan State 17%, Kayah (Karenni) State 6%, Kayin (Karen) State 29%, Mon State 1%, Tanintharyi Region 3%, Bago Region 18%, and Chin State 0.2%.

Over 1000 people have been killed or injured by antipersonnel landmines since the previous, Thein Sein government launched peace talks with ethnic armed groups in August 2011. 90% of these           casualties were in Kachin, Karen (Kayin), Shan State and East Bago Region, according to MIMU.

Background

Landmines have been used both by the Military or Tatmadaw and the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) ever since the start of the armed conflict shortly after independence in 1948.

Basically the landmines are used largely to protect the controlled areas of the warring parties.

The Landmines and Cluster Munition Monitor Report in August 2017 wrote that Myanmar government forces have admitted to using antipersonnel landmines elsewhere in the country. In June 2017, a Ministry of Defense official told Landmine Monitor that the military does not use landmines near highly populated areas.

In September 2016, Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Defense Major General Myint Nwe informed the Myanmar parliament that the army continues to use landmines in internal armed conflict. He stated that Tatmadaw used landmines to protect state-owned factories, bridges, power towers, and its outposts in military operations. At the same session, a Member of Parliament from Shan State stated that “it can’t be denied that non-state armed groups are also using landmines…particularly since 2012.”

According to the MIMU since 2007, most of the known causes of civilian casualties occurred when  going to the forest (33%), traveling in mine-affected areas (28%), and working in agricultural fields (17%). This indicated that the civilian population is being largely affected by such landmines planted by the warring parties.

In 2016, of which the majority of casualties (156) were male, at least six casualties were female, two were girls, and two boys. The vast majority of casualties were civilian, just 15 casualties were recorded as having been involved in military activities in 2016, according to the Monitor.

 

Policy

Myanmar has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, even though it has periodically expressed support for the Mine Ban Treaty, it has not taken steps to accede to it.

Although the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by eight ethic armed groups in October 2015 states that the parties to the agreement will “end planting of mines” and “cooperate on the process of clearing all landmines,” the National League for Democracy (NLD) government elected in November 2015 that has continued peace talks hasn’t been able to conclude further agreements up to this days.

Non-signatory Myanmar acknowledges the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, but said in October 2015 that it cannot consider acceding to the convention until a nation-wide peace agreement is concluded.

 

Contamination

According to the Monitor, Myanmar is heavily mine-affected as a result of decades-old armed conflicts between the Tatmadaw and numerous Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs). Mined areas are located in areas of Myanmar adjacent to borders with Bangladesh, China, and Thailand.

At least 71 townships (out of a total of 325) in 10 states and regions are believed to suffer from some degree of mine contamination, primarily from antipersonnel mines. In the past few years, contamination has increased in the north. Shan State and Kachin State are considered heavily contaminated. Previously, Karen State and Pegu (Bago) Region were among those with the heaviest mine contamination and the highest number of recorded victims. Townships on the Indian border of Chin state and in the Sagaing region also reportedly have suspected hazardous areas.

Additional mine use occurred in 2017 when the Tatmadaw reportedly planted antipersonnel mines on the border between northern Rakhine state and Bangladesh and during a military campaign in August and September, causing casualties among fleeing Rohingya civilians.

A situation analysis for humanitarian response in Myanmar released in September 2016 noted that, “Landmine contamination is a significant barrier to refugee return. It also continues to pose barriers to livelihoods, economic development, land ownership, and access to health and education services, all of which have gendered dimensions and implications.”

 

Recent landmine casualties

Meanwhile, the latest landmine casualty were reported in northern Shan State and Kachin State.

On June 20, two civilian motorcycle riders Tun Naing and Daw Aye Lone were instantly killed when they rode passed a planted landmine on the road between Loi Kalay and Pang Hka villages, in Kyaukme Township, northern Shan State, reported the Manager news.

This area is the operational area of Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). Earlier, a few months ago, a villager was also killed when he stepped on a landmine in the forest.

Again, on June 8, the KIA ambushed the Tatmadaw Light Infantry Division 297, in Hpakant road near Nam Ya village in Kachin State, using landmines, which killed 3 Tatmadaw soldiers and wounded 6 others, according to a Kachin news source.

While they are not much of an outstanding news in the highly violent conflict infested regions, it is a slow-burning issue with the contamination of  landmines in so many part of  the country that would continue to trouble the concerned population for a long time to come,

 

Perspective

Given such conditions such as the country not being signatory party to Mine Ban Treaty, Convention on Cluster Munitions and no prospect of joining them in the foreseeable future; the ongoing armed conflict in Kachin and Shan States; and the continued using of landmines by all warring parties to protect their controlled areas and also in warfare; there is little hope that measures such as  decontamination of landmines and secure land release could be done anytime soon.

Although some victim assistance measures could be implemented as Myanmar has acceded to UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a lot still need to be done. It is all the more problematic as the casualty figure is bound to rise, with the armed conflict still going on in the northern and eastern part of the country.

As it is, a lasting peace is the only way out of this landmine-inflicted, ongoing disaster, which mostly the population in conflict areas have to bear the brunt, needless to say of the combatants of all warring parties.

As such, ending the war in ethnic states is the precondition to be able to effectively overcome the landmine-induced fatalities. And to do it, trust-building between the warring parties has to be established, which is now in deficit, as the ongoing war in Kachin and Shan States couldn’t be stopped.

Thus, effective control of the landmine problem would hinge on achieving peace first. Otherwise, we will have to be satisfied only with limited victim assistance measures and education on how to deal with it to practically survive, without having the opportunity to deal with it in a holistic, comprehensive manner to get rid of the menace once and for all.

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