New Government Urged to Act on Landmines in Burma

By Moe Myint 5 April 2016

RANGOON — A representative of Unicef in Burma urged the National League for Democracy (NLD) government to sign off on the international Mine Ban Treaty and halt landmine use in conflict zones on Monday, the fourth in-country commemoration of International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

The deputy representative of the UN’s children agency, Shalini Bahuguna, pointed out that 162 countries have acceded to the anti-mine treaty globally, but Burma is not among them. After Afghanistan and Colombia, Burma ranks as the country third most-plagued by landmines in the world.

Over the first three months of 2016, 21 landmine causalities were documented in Shan State. According to Unicef and its partners in compiling the data, 59 landmine incidents occurred in 2015, and among them 34 of the victims were children. Seventeen of the incidents were fatal, while 42 people were severely injured.

Unicef child protection specialist Emmanuelle Compingt said 65 percent of respondents reported accidents that occurred during the collection of bamboo shoots or other forest products. Many people lack mine risk education and three out of four children had never received any information about the dangers, he said of the data collected, suggesting that mine risk education be incorporated into school curricula.

A landmine survivor, Ma Chit Thet Wai of Nyaung Pin Tha village in Pegu Division’s Kyaukkyi Township, participated in Monday’s commemoration in Rangoon. She lost her left leg when she stepped on a landmine in 2007, in territory under contested control by both the Karen National Union (KNU) and Burma Army.

She described feelings of shame and difficulties in finding job opportunities in the years that followed.

Data from the International Coalition to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the UN’s Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), covering 50 townships in Burma’s 14 states and divisions, found that more than 400 civilians had been killed and 3,300 people were wounded by landmines over the last 17 years, with their report saying the actual number of casualties was likely higher than their findings indicated.

“The time is right now, we have the national ceasefire agreement and we have new government and mine action should be a key instrument to support reconciliation in the current political transition, and the ongoing peace-building efforts in Myanmar,” said Bahuguna.

On Monday, the UN sought US$5.8 million toward mine risk education, victims’ assistance and related aid, but said only 26 percent of that total had been secured to date.

NLD patron Tin Oo promised attendees to Monday’s event that demining would be a priority for the party over its five-year term.

“It’s a very sorrowful situation, innocent children and women are being killed because both sides [ethnic armed groups and the Burma Army] are using landmines to fight their enemies and protect their territory. It’s quite bad,” he said.

A former general who served in the 1960s and ’70s, Tin Oo acknowledged that landmine factories existed during his time in the Burma Army—and were still producing ordnance today.

Than Zin, a representative from a local demining organization, suggested the new government follow through on plans from the Myanmar Peace Center to form a Myanmar Mine Action Center (MMAC), described by the MPC as “the focal point for all humanitarian mine action activities within the country.”