Spike in landmine casualties as conflict rages in Myanmar

International donors are urged to increase mine clearance and education programs
Spike in landmine casualties as conflict rages in Myanmar

A woman with her child walks past a poster warning of weapon dangers at a shelter for internally displaced people in Hsipaw, the area where a German tourist was killed by a landmine explosion on Nov. 26. (Photo: AFP)

The death of a German tourist in a landmine explosion has highlighted the dangerous surge in landmine use in conflict-stricken Myanmar.

An Argentine woman was also injured in the accident on Nov. 26 near Hsipaw town in Shan state, where fighting is raging between Myanmar’s military and armed ethnic groups.

Hsipaw is a popular spot for tourists who frequently ride the scenic route by train from Mandalay to reach the mountains.

Two German travelers and their guide were wounded by a landmine blast in the same area in 2016.

The latest casualty comes just a week after Myanmar was named and shamed for its continuing use of the weapons. The Landmine Monitor report said that from mid-2018 to October 2019, Myanmar was the only country where government security forces had deployed mines.

Myanmar’s military is accused of widespread rights abuses and largely operates without civilian oversight.

The conflicts in Kachin and Shan states continue to trap civilians and landmine casualties are increasing. Three civilians were killed by landmines in Kyaukme township in Shan state in August and September, according to aid groups.

A senior official told local media that 168 people were injured in mine blasts in the first nine months of 2019, with 126 people left disabled. He added that most explosions happened in conflict areas: 46 percent in Shan state, 24 percent in Rakhine and 18 percent in Kachin.

Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye told the Fourth Review Conference on a Mine Free World in Oslo, Norway, on Nov. 26 that the government is prioritizing the national peace process and that securing mine safety, raising public awareness and rehabilitating victims of mines are crucial to sustainable development.

He said Myanmar is aiming to form a Mine Action Authority and has translated information on landmines into ethnic languages.

Lack of attention

Advocacy group Burma Campaign UK has called on donors to reverse cuts in landmine clearance and education in Myanmar, and instead organize a donor summit in coordination with Myanmar’s government to massively scale up landmine clearance.

Mark Farmaner, director of the group, said the lack of attention to the issue of landmines by international donors is “a disgrace.”

“It is beyond belief that rather than massively scaling up mine clearance and education programs in Myanmar, donors are actually cutting them,” Farmaner said in a Nov. 21 statement.

He said international donors cannot keep encouraging refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return home while action is not taken on mine clearance.

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IDPs and refugees from eastern and northern Myanmar have told Burma Campaign UK that landmines are one of the main factors preventing them from returning to their villages and farms.

More than 100,000 refugees, mostly Karen, reside in Thailand while around 120,000 IDPs are in Kachin and Shan states, more than 50,000 are in Rakhine state and around 5,000 are in Karen state.

Myanmar is ranked third after Colombia and Afghanistan in terms of having the highest mine-related casualty rates in the world. Myanmar recorded 3,745 such casualties between 1999 and 2014. 

Myanmar has yet to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty adopted by more than 80 percent of nations.

The Myanmar military has laid landmines every year since 1997. Reports also show that most of the country’s 20 or so armed ethnic groups have used mines.

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