Burma Landmine Casualty Rate Among World’s Worst: Report

By Nobel Zaw 30 December 2014

RANGOON —Burma has the third-highest landmine-related casualty rates in the entire world, has edged away from international forums focused to eradicate the munitions, and is one of the only countries in the world still actively deploying mines in conflict areas, according to the latest report from the research arm of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

The 2014 Landmine Monitor report documents 3,450 casualties between 1999 and the end of 2013, resulting in at least 348 deaths. The recorded landmine casualty rate in the six years from 2006 is surpassed only by Colombia, a nation that has spent five decades fighting a Marxist insurgency financed by drug trafficking, and Afghanistan, a country ravaged by seemingly interminable war for most of the last 35 years.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, the Landmine Monitor researcher for Burma, told a press conference yesterday that the country’s refusal to ratify the Mine Ban Treaty and allow direct inspection of conflict flashpoints made it difficult to compile an accurate number of casualties, but the ICBL’s official estimates over the period were almost certainly understated.

He added that despite a request from President Thein Sein for European Union assistance in establishing clearance programs in 2012, international organizations had been prevented from traveling to areas contaminated with landmines, with the military and the government blaming each other for the refusal of access. According to Landmine Monitor, there has been no mine clearance by accredited organizations in the last two years, although some ethnic armed groups and organizations such as the Free Burma Rangers have engaged in some local demining programs.

The Landmine Monitor report found “credible allegations” of anti-personnel mine use by the Burma Army over the last two years in Kachin and Arakan States, including a stretch of land less than 100 meters from the country’s border with Bangladesh. While the report was unable to corroborate any accounts of landmines being used over the same period by ethnic armed groups, it noted that none of these groups had renounced the use of landmines since negotiations toward a nationwide ceasefire agreement began in 2011.

162 countries are signatories to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s governments. Burma has repeatedly abstained on United Nations General Assembly resolutions to prohibit the use, stockpiling and production of anti-personnel mines, and President Thein Sein told an audience at the 2012 Asean Summit in Phnom Penh that the country’s continued use of landmines was necessary “in order to safeguard the life and property of people.” While Burma has participated in several recent international forums established by the Mine Ban Treaty, the government declined to field representatives for the most recent review conference, held in Mozambique in June.

Myo Myint Aung, a former military doctor who lost his eyesight and sustained 86 separate shrapnel wounds in a landmine injury at the age of 25, told The Irrawaddy that all landmines in Burma should be eliminated.

“I want to say solemnly that landmines should not available,” he said. “When people fire guns, you are aware of the danger in front of you, but with landmines you can never know when you will be hurt.”