Burma Army to Remove Landmines in Karen State

By Lawi Weng & Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 8 May 2017

The Burma Army will remove landmines in Karen State following an agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU), according to Col Wunna Aung, spokesperson for the Burma Army and member of the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC).

After the KNU and the JMC discussed the military codes of conduct for the project at a three-day meeting in Rangoon last week, Col Wunna Aung said on Friday “both sides want mines to be cleared, but we will need to build trust.”

A timescale for the operations had not yet been decided, he said, though demining in ethnic Karen conflict areas was part of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) signed by the Burma Army and the KNU’s armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in 2015.

“Demining is for the people; we will demine near public roads and schools,” he said, adding that the Burma Army had agreed not to demine near KNLA bases but that exact locations had not yet been agreed.

“If the international community will provide technical assistance, the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] will undertake the operations,” he said.

According to Col Wunna Aung there are three areas in the country with landmines—in Karen and Shan states and Bago Division. The Burma Army will eventually demine all of these areas, he said.

Contrary to Col Wunna Aung’s Friday suggestion that many of the landmines to be removed were placed by ethnic armed groups, KNU vice chairperson Kwe Htoo Win told The Irrawaddy that his group only placed landmines in conflict areas, not in areas used by the public.

Negotiating Burma Army movement in KNU-controlled areas would need to be handled delicately, he said.

Kwe Htoo Win said the process will take time and that the public needed to be educated about the demining project before it was launched.

Saw Alex Htoo, a CSO leader in Karen State, said demining at the current time would “too early and premature.” While demining might appeal “on the surface,” he said, deeper political issues need to be explored so that such activities can be successful.

“Firstly, [the Tatmadaw] needs to solve the military code of conduct. Secondly, they need to establish borders for their controlled territory,” he said. “It seems to me that the Tatmadaw jumped steps. While they could not solve these first two points, they jumped to another step.”

“I do not see that the Tatmadaw has genuine concern for this project. Their actions may cause problems,” he added.