Myanmar’s landmine victims bound to increase as war goes on 

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On the heels of the “Landmine Monitor 2019” by Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor in November, a series of landmines exploded in Namhsan Township in northern Shan State during the second week of December causing both casualties and injuries.

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Townships with Known Landmine/ERW Contamination (1999-2019) and Landmine/ERW Casualties in Myanmar (2018)

“Landmines exploded at three different locations on December 14. We have heard information about landmine explosions and landmine injuries almost everyday in our area,” Kyar Ti, who lives in Namhsan, told Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN).

Kyar Ti said that Hla Aung, 37, stepped on a landmine that day near Zayan Mang Mai village at around 9:00 a.m. He is in critical condition, and has been transferred to the Lashio public hospital to treat shrapnel injuries to his ribs and forearms.

Another of the December 14 incidents involved 42-year-old Aye Ngwe, who stepped on a landmine in Kaitai village as she was going to her tea farm. She endured serious wounds to her legs, and according to a member of a local outreach group, she needed to undergo an amputation.

“One of her legs was cut off. She is a mother of three children, so she will have many difficulties. Currently, she doesn’t have enough money for her medical costs,” Ah Ban, who works with the Ohm Ta Mao social team in Kyaukme, told SHAN.

Ah Ban also said that 43-year-old Tun Tin of Loi Pyet village was killed after stepping on a landmine on December 12. He is one of two people killed in the last week—four were injured.

While the latest said tragedies seem to be concentrated in northern Shan State, they are hardly the only affected areas.

According to the Landmine Monitor report, 90 townships had landmine risks in 2018, an increase from 71 in 2017 and 60 in 2016. Those townships are in Chin, Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Karen, Mon, Rakhine (Arakan) and Shan states and Bago, Sagaing and Tanintharyi regions. Kachin State was hit hardest by landmines, followed by Shan, Kayah and Karen states and then Bago Region between 2007 and 2018, the report said.

Furthermore, four townships where previously there were no landmine are now listed in the monitor. They are Paletwa Township in Chin State and Maungdaw, and Arakan State of Kyaukphyu and Buthidaung now have landmine victims, according to the report.

According to the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), since 2007, Myanmar has suffered the second highest number of anti-personnel landmine casualties when compared to other countries in the Asian region.  A total of 3,667 deaths and injuries were recorded between 2007 and 2018.

Landmine Monitor report total causalities for Myanmar for the period between 1999 to 2018 were 4,623; and the causality recording for 2018 for Myanmar was 430.

The cause of injury or death of civilian recorded from 2007 to 2018 were 34% collection of jungle or forest products,  hunting and fishing; 29% travel and movement in mined areas; 20% agricultural activity in mined areas; and 17% other causes, according to MIMU.

Myanmar is not a party to 164 States parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and a member of  Defence Services Department openly admitted that landmines were used against ethnic armed groups. Likewise, the non-state ethnic armed groups are also doing the same.

Given such prevailing current situation, the buried landmines will continue to contaminate the ethnic states’ landscape, even if the war stops today.

This in effect means, more landmine contamination are to be expected in Arakan State due to the escalation of armed conflict since January 2019, in addition to the other already landmine contaminated ethnic states.

And with the on going wars in various ethnic states, the pleas of affected local people and the concerned international community will just fall on deaf ears, so long as landmines are seen as a cheap way to defend the warring parties’ security parameters.

The  ideal sequence option for the threatened potential victims and the well-meaning organization like  International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) with a global network of non-governmental organizations, active in some 100 countries, will be to agree on bilateral and nationwide ceasefire, end the armed conflict, and agree upon political negotiation framework acceptable to all stakeholders, followed by signing and ratification Mine Ban Treaty, and finally, to undertake the mine clearance operation countrywide.

But all these will remain a distant dream, so long as the first step of bilateral ceasefire cannot be achieved and implemented, in words and deeds. The ball is now in the court of all stakeholders or warring parties and the fate of the people will solely depend on how wisely they respond to the dire tragic situation of the country.

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