Despite Burma reached ceasefire deals with ethnic minorities, international rights groups on Wednesday said landmines including anti-personnel mines are still heavily used by the Burmese military and ethnic groups, threatening more than 450,000 refugees and internally displaced persons who want to return home.
Most landmines used in Burma are in the east, where armed conflicts between government forces and ethnic rebels have been fought for more than 60 years.
Both government forces and ethnic rebels have used landmines against each other in Karenni, Shan, Kachin, Karen states and Pegu Division.
Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, an research coordinator on Burma for Geveva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), told the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the weapons are used to strike fear into the enemy.
“Anti-personnel mines are used as terror weapons by both sides…[Some] are not marked because the combatants want to strike fear into the enemy. This results in both sides terrorizing the [civilian] population with mines,” he said.
The Burmese army and at least 17 non-state armed groups have used the mines routinely in the last few years, according to the ICBL.
Although injuries and fatalities are lower this year than in past years where records have been kept, no ethnic armies have yet committed to ending the use of mines, according to Moser-Puangsuwan.
Sally Thompson, the director of the The Border Consortium (TBC), an humanitarian aid agency told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that TBC has supported 150,000 refugees on the Thai-Burma border, adding that the groups which use landmines first need to agree to stop using the landmines, before the process of demining can begin.
So far the peace talks between the government and ethnic armies have not covered the issue of landmines, Thompson said.
It will take years to physically clear the mines placed all around the mountainous areas of eastern Burma, she added.
But international organizations, including the UN, argue that a lasting peace must be reached before demining operations can be undertaken.
Since January 2012, the government has signed ceasefire agreements with ethnic armies. But the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says more needs to be done.
Patricia Treimer, a field officer with the UNHCR in Burma, said in a statement: “The process requires agreement, cooperation and support from conflict parties.”
However, Maja Lazic, senior protection officer at the UNHCR in Burma, said that there will be no promotion of refugee return until landmines are cleared.
As they have fewer fighters then the government army, ethnic armed leaders find using landmines is useful and reduces deaths in their ranks from direct combat.
The ethnic leaders said demining and landmine clearance will be agreed to only when there is trust between the different groups and concrete steps of peace building take place between the government and the respective minority groups.