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The lay of the landmines

Today marks the UN Mine Awareness Day. It is also a day when landmines still pock nine states across Myanmar—their distribution particularly prevalent on the Bangladeshi and Thai borders and along the east of the country where civil wars have waged for decades.

Saw Nu, 18, who stepped on an SPDC landmine when returning to his village from Mo---village, Lu Thaw Township, Karen State, pictured on May 29, 2010. The mine had been planted on a jungle path. [Photo: KHRG]Both government troops and rebel insurgents are to blame, which means the exact number of landmines and their whereabouts is unknown. Few mine studies have been conducted while the conflicts continue.

The most up-to-date figures from The Landmine Monitor state that there were 3,242 landmine casualties across Myanmar from 1999-2011, making it the third highest in landmine casualties in the entire world. It is no wonder many displaced fear going home.

“There will be no active promotion of return until landmines areas are identified, openly marked and cleared,” said Maja Lazic, senior protection officer at the UN’s Refugee agency, UNHCR, in Myanmar, according to a UN report on Wednesday.

Attempted landmine clearances have been thwarted recently. In January, the clearance program in Bago [Pegu] Region was delayed due to a leadership reshuffle within the Karen National Union (KNU), said Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) Mine Action Programme Manager Aksel Steen-Nilsen.

The KNU’s Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win explained at the time that the local Nyaunglebin residents were aware of the landmines planted in the area, and were afraid to return to live there and work on their farms.      

“Yes, there are landmines,” he continued. “Even if there was only one landmine in the area, nobody would dare to go back.”

However, there is some hope: in February 2012, President Thein Sein asked for assistance in mine clearance during visits by delegations from Norway and Luxemburg, according to a report in Le Quotidien. This was the first time the country had asked for assistance on this issue.

In July last year, in a meeting with other ASEAN foreign ministers, Myanmar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wunna Maung Lwin, said that Naypyitaw was seriously considering disarmament treaties including the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, or Ottawa Convention, as part of its state reforms.

But real action by the government has yet to be seen. According to the 2012 Landmine Monitor report released in November 2012, the Myanmar government still has yet to sign the international landmine ban treaty.

Related articles:
  1. Burma’s landmine issue
  2. Security expert warns of pipeline explosion
  3. Pegu landmine clearance delayed due to KNU reshuffle
Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:54 )  

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