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Little Progress on Removing Landmines in Myanmar

Kyaw Win and his colleague, both former Karenni fighters who lost legs to landmines, look at prosthetic legs in their workshop in Loikaw, in Karenni State in Myanmar. (P. Vrieze/VOA)
Kyaw Win and his colleague, both former Karenni fighters who lost legs to landmines, look at prosthetic legs in their workshop in Loikaw, in Karenni State in Myanmar. (P. Vrieze/VOA)
Little Progress on Removing Landmines in Myanmar
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Myanmar has the third-highest number of landmine casualties in the world.

Only Colombia and Afghanistan have more deaths and injuries from mine explosions. That information comes from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.

The Monitor reported that mines injured 3,745 people in Myanmar between 1999 and 2014. It said 396 of them died from their injuries. As the group noted, “this is believed to be only a small fraction of the actual figure” because the government does not collect information on deaths and injuries from landmines.

The Monitor found that in 2014 alone, exploding mines hurt 251 people in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Forty-five of them died from their injuries. In 2013, there were 145 casualties. The group noted that the government and rebel fighters continue to use mines.

Yeshua Moser-Puanguswan is the Monitor’s Myanmar researcher. “Mine warfare has consistently been a characteristic of armed conflict in Myanmar. That has not changed,” he said.

The group noted that Myanmar has not signed the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty. It said in 2014 Myanmar, Syria and North Korea were the only countries “with confirmed new use” of the weapons.

Ethnic conflicts have been a problem for years in southeastern Myanmar. Rural areas of Karenni state have some of the highest levels of active mines.

The Monitor says the states of Karenni and Karen and the Bago Region are among the most heavily mined areas in the country.

Some observers suspect the military deploys mines made in its weapons production centers. They said ethnic rebels use foreign- and locally-made mines as defensive weapons. The devices keep the rebels from being captured by government troops.

A government-proposed ceasefire led to a reduction in fighting in the southeast. In September 2015, the government and eight rebel groups agreed to a nationwide ceasefire. But in the north, fighting with the Kachin Independence Army and other groups has increased, and so has the use of landmines.

In 2013, the European Union gave $4.6 million to create the Myanmar Mine Action Center, operated by the government. Workers from aid groups then were sent to Myanmar to help with mapping and removal of mines. The workers also helped landmine victims and launched public information campaigns about the issue. In the past, the country’s military rulers had banned such activities.

But the government and the military would not let the groups disarm the mines or make maps until ceasefire talks were completed. The 2015 agreement says landmine removal should happen “in accordance with the progress of the peace process.” But since it was signed, the government has yet to approve the disarming of mines.

The DanChurchAid Humanitarian Mine Action operates in southeastern Myanmar.

“The mine action center has failed completely -- it doesn’t exist,” said the group’s Bjarne Ussing. “A fraction of the (EU) money has been used for some training and cars, a small survey.” He says the language of the ceasefire on mine removal is “vaguely-worded. We will have to see what that means.”

He said the lack of progress in disarming mines threatens plans by Myanmar and Thailand to let about 150,000 refugees return home in coming years.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Paul Vrieze reported this story for Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

casualty – n. a person who is hurt or killed during an accident or war