YANGON—Despite the Myanmar government’s assurances to the international community that the country’s military is forbidden to use landmines, a number of Rohingya people have been killed by mines produced by the Army in northern Rakhine State in recent months, according to a new report.
On Wednesday, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, Myanmar Research Coordinator for Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, launched the group’s 19th report at the Royal Rose restaurant in Yangon. The anti-personnel landmine watchdog compiled casualty figures from medical assistance groups and non-governmental organizations, as well as information obtained by its own local researcher during visits to refugee camps on the Bangladesh border.
A military crackdown against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in Maungdaw district in August 2017 caused around 660,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Some of them walked into minefields while attempting to cross the border, according to the report.
Moser-Puangsuwan played video footage during his presentation showing what he said were Rohingya refugees using a shovel and bamboo sticks to unearth an M-14 landmine. This anti-personnel weapon is produced by the Army at the Kapasa factory, a state-owned enterprise based in Ngyaung Chay Dauk in western Bago Division. He was unable to provide a precise estimate of Rohingya casualties.
“You can see that one person is taking away the mine with a shovel, and eventually a person picks it up by the outside [edges of the device]. These mines were found on the Myanmar side of the border,” he said.
He disclosed that Myanmar had abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly’s December 2016 resolution in support of its existing global landmine ban, despite senior Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) officials having told the watchdog that it and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were “seriously reviewing landmine policy”.
The watchdog coordinator added that the commander-in-chief of the Defense Services last month sent a letter to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, an international anti-mine lobbying group, stating that “any use of landmines is forbidden.” The same month, the government delivered the same message to the president of a meeting of state parties to the mine ban treaty.
Since December 2017, 162 countries — over 80 percent of all governments — have ratified the Mine Ban Treaty. Myanmar has refrained from doing so, however. According to the report, the group has also discovered aerial bombs in Kachin State and Abandoned Explosive Ordinance (AXO) in some ethnic regions.
The group estimates total landmine casualties in Myanmar from 1999 to 2016 at 4,000, including 488 fatalities, 3,385 injuries and 118 unknown outcomes. He said that 1,080 people had been affected by landmine incidents in the six years since peace talks began. The group says that the actual number of casualties is likely higher than the figures in its report indicate.
“Do we believe [that these figures represent a full accounting]? No. We get most of the information from medical assistance groups. Guess what. They don’t give medical assistance to dead people,” Moser-Puangsuwan said.
According to the report, 71 townships from 10 states and regions of Myanmar are affected by antipersonnel mines. Shan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon and Rakhine states are the worst affected. It said both the government and ethnic armed groups plant landmines in the areas under their control, adding that the issue of mine clearance had not been seriously addressed at peace negotiations.
“We believe this is a humanitarian issue, not just a military one. And the landmines still in the ground today—even if you get a peace agreement tomorrow—will continue to produce war victims for many years,” Moser-Puangsuwan said.
The timeline for mine clearance is still vague, as the signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement are as yet still unwilling to give up what they see as a key defensive weapon.
In terms of mine incidents in Maungdaw region, mine expert Moser-Puangsuwan explained that all of the devices confiscated by the Army are technically defined as remote-controlled bombs, which can be detonated by radio, among other means.
A total of nine landmine monitoring organizations have applied to conduct mine-risk education activities in Myanmar, but only three of these have been granted permission to begin surveying in high-danger mine areas in 2018. They are prohibited from putting up fences or signs in areas deemed to contain mines.