Military


The Myanmar military has launched multiple offensives against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on April 10, with fighting continuing over the Thingyan new year holidays.
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A coalition of aid and relief groups working in Kachin State issued a statement on Monday warning that more than 3,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in the southeast part of the state, which remains ongoing.
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A four-day meeting between leaders of Burma’s ethnic armed groups and government peace negotiators concluded in Rangoon on Tuesday with the two sides announcing that they agreed “in principle” on a draft of a long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement. However, key parts of the wording of the elusive single draft agreement still had not been agreed upon.
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The United Wa State Party, which controls the country’s largest ethnic army, will soon decide whether to participate in nationwide ceasefire talks along with other armed ethnic groups, a spokesperson said.
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Over 300 people who fled Shan State’s Palaung Self-Administered Zone have been provided relief by sympathisers from Lashio.
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Two ethnic based organisations have been advocating for the release of 33 men and women who were forcefully recruited by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
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As Gen. Gun Maw, the deputy chief of staff for the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), meets this week with his Burmese counterparts in Rangoon as part of a joint meeting with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), his subordinates stationed at Ban Du Kawng post near Mai Ja Yang, the KIO’s second-largest town, will keep a watchful eye on the Burma Army post on the next hilltop.
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Magway Township Court has sentenced Democratic Voice of Burma reporter Thura Thet Tin, aka Zaw Pe, and a parent Win Myint Hlaing for one year in jail on April 7 for trespassing, obstructing officials on duty and conspiracy to do so, according to local sources.
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Clashes are continuing in northern Shan State between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and government troops, as census enumerators try to collect demographic data in the area.
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Ethnic Kachin woman Samlut Roi Ja was abducted at Mu Bum near Mai Ja Yang in Bahmo district in Kachin state in October 2011, believed to be raped and killed by the Burma army. Her case was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
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For villagers in southeastern Burma, a tentative 2012 ceasefire between ethnic Karen rebels and the government has yet to address an intractable threat that lurks along their trails, in their rice paddies and even dangling from branches – landmines and unexploded ordinance.

Mine risk educator Pah Dah has spent the past six years traveling to remote villages in Karen State, providing villagers with the educational tools needed to avoid landmines and their lethal consequences.“I have seen many people who have been injured by landmines during my work,” said Pah Dah, who works for the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People. “In conflict-affected communities there is almost no village without a landmine victim. In some villages, there are up to nine mine victims.”

Landmines, laid by ethnic armed groups, the Burma army and numerous militias during the six-decade war for Karen independence are in abundance along Burma’s border with Thailand.“The reality is very, very complex, and the Karen areas are particularly complex in terms of the number of different armed actors operating in those areas as well,” said Chris Rush, a senior program officer for Burma at Geneva Call, an NGO that works to bring non-state armed groups into line with humanitarian standards.

The organization signed a deed of commitment with the Karen National Union and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, in which troops pledged to refrain from using child soldiers or sexual violence. The KNU however has not signed Geneva Call’s third plank calling for a prohibition of landmine use.
Rush added that the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, which was formed from a faction that split from the KNU in 1994 and sided with the government, before returning to fight alongside the KNU in 2010, has not signed any deeds of commitment with Geneva Call, and also has its own history of landmine usage.

Pah Dah said landmines and other ordinance hinder the ability of villagers to go about their daily routines. “If there is a minefield close to the village, to their farms or on paths, villagers will be afraid to go to their farm, collect firewood, forage for food or tend their cattle,” he said. “Villagers depend on these daily activities for their livelihood, so they face difficulties because of mines.”

For Pah Dah, even getting to villages where he can present mine safety information to residents can be dangerous.

“There are difficulties accessing some areas because of mines, but it is not impossible,” he said. “Sometimes we cross through minefields to get to some villages, and with local knowledge we can access these places.”

Every township in Karen State has some reported landmine contamination, said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, a veteran Burma researcher for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. He added that the extent of the problem and the precise number of mines remains unknown because no technical survey has been completed.

“Much of the mine pollution within Burma is what we would call a scattered mine problem,” Moser-Puangsuwan said. “You have somebody who threw a couple of mines over their shoulders as they ran through a field to prevent somebody else from chasing them. You have some mines that have been laid on a path on a certain hill to interrupt the use of that [path] by some other military group.”

Moser-Puangsuwan said that even a single landmine incident on a well-trodden path could ruin someone’s livelihood, citing an example where a plantation owner abandoned his farm after a bomb exploded on a trail nearby. The plantation’s farm workers, in turn, lost their jobs.

Landmines have killed at least 319 people in Burma since 1999, according to the Landmine Monitor, although this number is likely conservative because no official records are kept. Burma, which is not a signatory to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning landmine use, trailed behind only Afghanistan and Colombia in terms of landmine casualties worldwide in 2013, Rush said.

In the eyes of a long-time landmine campaigner like Moser-Puangsuwan, mine clearance is the only lasting solution to the problem, although mine risk education and landmine marking can work as a “stop gap”.

“A first step towards a number of things will be mine clearance, and mine clearance is both a costly and time consuming activity, so the sooner it begins, the better, as far as we are concerned,” Moser-Puangsuwan said. “Nobody should believe that if you do mine risk education in a village you’re eliminating the mine threat. The only way you eliminate the mine threat is by eliminating the mines.”

Aksel Steen-Nilsen, a program manager for Norwegian People’s Aid, said that a non-technical survey of the country’s mines would likely begin soon, adding that the NPA has already finished several pilot survey projects in Mon State in southeastern Burma.

It has also entered into an agreement with the Burma government to establish a mine action center that will coordinate mine-related activities across the country.

Despite outside pledges for mine assistance, Karen State residents have raised concerns that premature mine removal could open the door to land grabs or expose them to the Burmese military.“The international community has to also be very vigilant on this and make sure that it’s not supporting or carrying out mine action without clear humanitarian criteria, and it shouldn’t be a fuel to the already big challenges, such as land grabbing and the creation of mega projects without proper consultation with affected communities,” Rush said.

Land rights have been hotly contested in Burma in the face of rampant land confiscation across the country, and they remain at the forefront of the NPA’s considerations, Steen-Nilsen said. “It is difficult to say that no demining should take place before all development and land right issues have been resolved as innocent people daily will have to risk their lives living in areas with landmines,” he said. “All [international NGOs] that want to be involved in the clearance of landmines have made it clear that having clear guidelines regarding land rights issues would be very beneficial to have when the time is right for landmine removal.”

One bit of respite, Pah Dah said, is that armed groups have been planting fewer landmines in the wake of the ceasefire. “I don’t know about the whole country, but in my mission area, Dooplaya district in central Karen State and in the area that I reached, the danger of landmines at the moment has lessened a bit compared to the past years when armed conflict was ongoing,” he said.

Yet for villages and towns grappling with landmines across Karen State, the scars may never be completely erased. “It is sad to see that many lives have been affected by landmines, and the impact it has on the individuals injured by them, the family and even the community,” Pah Dah said.

A version of this article first appeared on March 21, 2014 as “Burma’s Hidden Killer” for ucanews.com.

Link: http://bnionline.net/index.php/news/kic/16910-a-long-wars-lingering-reminder.html

Since the Second World War, Myanmar has witnessed an accumulation of landmines and unexploded ordnance that has affected untold numbers of people. The legacy of these weapons, worldwide and across Myanmar, claims thousands of new victims each year. ‘International Mine Awareness Day’ draws attention to the issue and highlights progress towards their eradication.
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The UN Secretary-General’s special advisor on Burma, Vijay Nambiar, met with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in the armed group’s Laiza headquarters on Wednesday.
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According to villagers in Shan State’s Namhsan township, The Ta’ang (Palaung) National Liberation Army (TNLA) are forcefully recruiting people into their ranks and are executing those who refuse.
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The Myanmar Navy (MN) has commissioned its first guided-missile frigate with low observable radar characteristics.
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The KNU Central Executive Committee member discusses the Tatmadaw, a federal army and the hope of finally achieving peace for his people.
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Burma’s military chief said during an annual military celebration Thursday that eliminating ethnic armed conflicts is the most important factor for the country, and reiterated his support for ongoing negotiations toward a nationwide ceasefire.
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The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) selected its nine-member delegation team to draft a nationwide ceasefire agreement together with a government team.
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Against a backdrop of simmering tensions with Bangladesh, Myanmar has concluded its largest naval show of naval strength in recent years.
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The Burma Army arrested and tortured five villagers suspected of associating with the RCSS, on March 21, in Kyawkme township, northern Shan State.
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