Twenty-Six Killed, Over 100 Injured by Land Mines in Myanmar Since January, Says Report

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 18 June 2020

YANGON—More than 20 civilians were killed and 100 more were injured in landmine blasts in Myanmar from January and to the end of May, according to the Mine Risk Working Group (MRWG), with most of the casualties reported in Rakhine State where the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) are engaged in ongoing fighting.

“Twenty-six people were killed and 104 were injured in mine explosions from January through May. Casualties and injuries were highest in Rakhine State, followed by Shan and Kachin states,” said U Kyaw Win Oo of the MRWG.

Rakhine State accounted for 56 percent of total deaths and injuries from landmines, he added. The group declined to provide further details on the casualties.

According to international organizations monitoring the use of landmines, landmines did not present a risk in Rakhine State until 2017, except along the border of Bangladesh.

However, civilian casualties and injuries from landmines have increased since then, as fighting has escalated between the Myanmar military and the AA in Rakhine.

“The risk of landmines will remain in any place with active armed conflict—currently in Shan and Rakhine and in Paletwa in Chin State,” said U Kyaw Win Oo.

Secretary U Zaw Zaw Tun of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, a civil society organization helping civilians displaced by fighting in northern Rakhine, called for a greater focus on educating local people about the risks of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW).

He said civilians were killed or injured not solely because they stepped on landmines, but because of their lack of knowledge about landmines.

“They suffered more because they have no knowledge about how explosive the remnants are. In some cases, civilians try to get rid of landmines by themselves. Thy simply think they can remove the landmines and ERW by covering them with garbage and burning them down,” said U Zaw Zaw Htun.

In rural areas of northern Rakhine, landmines pose a threat to the livelihoods of local residents who search for food in the forest and make a living selling forest products like bamboo and bamboo shoots.

Meanwhile, over 50 civilians were injured by landmines in the same period in Shan State, where the Myanmar military is engaged in active fighting with ethnic armed organizations.

Myanmar military and the ethnic armed groups have traded blame for landmine blasts with both sides claiming that they systematically record the locations of mines they planted and remove the mines once they leave the area.

But U San Win Maung, who is engaged in educating the public about the risks of landmines in northern Shan State, said troops also plant landmines on tracks that they think their enemies will use so that they can know the movements of their enemies.

“Those mines, that they said they remove when they leave, are planted as a deterrent against the enemy. In theory, those mines must be removed when the troops leave after being stationed in a place. But landmines are also planted for another purpose—to show the movement of the enemy. In these cases, it is usually improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are planted, and they are left behind activated,” he said.

IEDs are mostly used by ethnic armed groups and have accounted for 60 percent of civilian injuries in Shan State, according to U San Win Maung.

The victims of mine blasts, even if they recover, find it difficult to return to normal life, especially those who lose limbs in mine explosions, according to the MRWG.

Myanmar has not ratified the International Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The International Campaign to Ban Land Mines has urged the Myanmar government to ratify both treaties. But Myanmar’s Defense Ministry said in 2018 it would not sign the treaties until civil war ends in the country.

According to a 2018 report by the Landmine Monitor, the research arm of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, the Myanmar military is the only government army in the world that is still using antipersonnel mines.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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