Landmines are concentrated around Burma’s borders with Bangladesh and Thailand, but are a particular threat in Kachine State and the eastern parts of the country, after decades of wars with ethnic minorities.
The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor website issued an updated report on its website this week saying some 47 townships in Kachin, Karen (Kayin), Karenni (Kayah), Mon, Rakhine, and Shan states, as well as in Pegu (Bago) and Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) divisions suffer from some degree of mine contamination, primarily from antipersonnel mines.
Karen (Kayin) State and Pegu (Bago) division are believed to contain the heaviest mine contamination and have the highest number of recorded victims.
The monitor said it has also received reports of previously unknown suspect hazardous areas in townships on the Indian border of Chin state.
No estimate exists of the extent of contamination, but the monitor group identified the following divisions and townships as contaminated with mines:
Karenni State: all seven townships;
Karen State: all seven townships;
Kachin State: Mansi, Mogaung, Momauk, Myitkyina, and Waingmaw;
Mon State: Bilin, Kyaikto, Mawlamyine, Thanbyuzayat, Thaton, and Ye;
Pegu division: Kyaukkyi, Shwekyin, Tantabin and Taungoo;
Rakhine State: Maungdaw;
Shan State: Hopong, Hsihseng, Langkho, Mawkmai, Mongpan, Mongton, Monghpyak, Namhsan Tachileik, Nanhkan, Yaksawk, and Ywangan;
Tenasserim Division: Bokpyin, Dawei, Tanintharyi, Thayetchaung and Yebyu; and
Explosive remnants of war
Myanmar is also affected by explosive remnants of war (ERW), including mortars, grenades, artillery and ordnance dating back to World War II, but the location or full extent of such contamination is not known. There have been no reports of cluster munition remnants.
Mine action program
Burma does not have a national mine action program, but as a result of reforms initiated by the government in the past year, ministers have engaged with local and international humanitarian agencies on developing mine action.
The UN Protection working group, chaired by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), created a subgroup focused on the threat of antipersonnel mines in 2009, but in the absence of willingness on the part of the military government to permit any form of mine action the group remained inactive, it said.
In March 2012, the group decided to reconvene to explore new possibilities for risk education following peace talks between the government and ethnic minority armed groups.
International demining organizations, including DanChurchAid (DCA), HALO Trust, and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), pursued contacts with the government in 2012 to explore possibilities for conducting survey and clearance, but as of June 2012 had not reached the point of establishing formal programs in Burma.
A proposal by Norway to support resettlement of communities displaced by conflict was agreed by Minister of Railways Aung Min in April 2012.
Under that agreement, Norwegian People’s Aid conducted a three-day non-technical assessment of the pilot area of Kuyak Kyi in Bago Division in May 2012 confirming that areas considered for resettlement were affected by mines. As of June 2012, NPA was awaiting permission to conduct a more detailed non-technical survey of the area. NPA had established an office in Rangoon due to be staffed full-time from July 2012 and appointed an operations officer due to take up the post in September 2012.
The State Minister for Border Affairs, responding to a parliamentary question submitted by an MP from Kayin/Karen State on clearing mines from six villages in his constituency, said in February 2012 that since the six villages were in an area under the control of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the DKBA would remove the mines, but that the Army was available for assistance if requested.
Mine clearance in 2011
Sporadic mine removal has been reported in recent years by the Tatmadaw (Burma’s army), villagers, and ethnic minority organizations. Child soldiers in the Tatmadaw interviewed in 2011 said that all soldiers were trained to handle mines and that they witnessed many mine casualties in Bago Division and Mon and Shan states.
The Free Burma Rangers (FBR) include a course on mine identification and emergency clearance procedures for their relief teams. Mines encountered on their missions have either been removed by FBR personnel, who turn them over to anti-government militias, or are removed by militia members.FBR reported that two Karenni Army soldiers were killed on 2 April 2011 when a mine they had removed detonated, also fatally wounding a member of the FBR.
Forced labor de-mining
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, reported in September 2011 that he had received reports of the “use of civilian porters to carry equipment and walk or drive ox-carts in front of military trucks, to clear for landmines.”
A report documenting forced labor demining by convict porters published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) in July 2011 said one major use of convict labor occurred in January 2011 when the Tatmadaw took an estimated 700 prisoners from 12 prisons and labor camps. The report cited interviews with former porters who escaped to Thailand in 2010–2011, including:
A former prisoner who estimated that by the time he escaped only 200 of his original group of 800 porters remained, with some 600 escaping, falling ill, being killed by landmines, and ambushed or executed.
A porter who stated that he had witnessed at least 10 porters step on mines, and said that some died, others lost their legs or eyes and were left where they were injured.
A former prisoner who described how “All of us were separated: three went to a medical unit, some to carry supplies. Others went into a mine clearance unit. The soldiers had metal detectors, but we were given sticks to check for mines.”
A former porter who said “Every day we had to walk ahead of the soldiers. They [soldiers] said, “Walk head, go first, there are landmines. It was our duty, we couldn’t say anything. Sometimes porters were injured by landmines and we carried them back. Other times they were shot.”
Mine/ERW risk education is inadequate and often non-existent in areas with reported casualties. Very limited activities are carried out in Karen (Kayin) State by the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People, in Karenni (Kayah) State by the Karenni Social Welfare and Development Centre, in Shan state by the Lahu Development Union, and in Chin State by the Chin Peoples Action Committee. Throughout 2011 these groups reportedly made presentations reaching about 8,099 people.
DCA, on behalf of the Ministry of Social Welfare and UNICEF, conducted four RE workshops in the first half of 2012. The first two in February were in Rangoon and in Mandalay for township medical and education officials, and NGO staff. DCA held two more workshops in late May and early June, in Taunggyi for staff in southern Shan State and in Lashio for officials from northern Shan State. The second two workshops included officials from the Home Affairs Ministry and the police. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that it provided training programs for staff working in internally displaced camps in Kachin State in October and November 2011.
To access the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, go to http://www.the-monitor.org/index.php/cp/display/region_profiles/theme/2031