Humanitarian Impact of Landmines in Burma/Myanmar
The Government of Burma/Myanmar has prohibited almost all forms of mine action with the exception of a limited amount of prosthetic assistance to people with amputated limbs through general health programmes. Some Mine Risk Education (MRE) is also conducted in areas which are partly or fully under the control of armed non-State actors (NSAs) as is victim assistance and some survey work, however, without Government authorisation.
Since starting operations in 2006, Geneva Call and DCA Mine Action, like other local and international actors wishing to undertake mine action, have been struggling to identify how best to do this in the limited humanitarian space available in Burma/Myanmar.
Lack of Government permission to start mine action activities and difficult access to mine-affected areas are two of the main obstacles identified by these actors. In response to this apparent conflict between interest and opportunity, Geneva Call and DCA Mine Action decided to produce a report on the landmine problem in Burma/Myanmar, which would pay particular attention to what can be done to address the identified needs. The report is based on research carried out between June and September 2010.
Thirty two different stakeholders in Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Bangladesh and China were interviewed in order to better understand the current, mediumand long-term effects of the landmine problem on affected local communities and to identify possible mine action interventions.
The problem with anti-personnel mines in Burma/Myanmar originates from decades of armed conflict, which is still ongoing in some parts or the country. Anti-personnel mines are still being used today by the armed forces of the Government of Burma/Myanmar (the Tatmadaw), by various non-State actors (NSAs), as well as by businessmen and villagers.
Ten out of Burma/Myanmar's 14 States and Divisions are mine contaminated. The eastern States and Divisions bordering Thailand are particularly contaminated with mines. Some areas bordering Bangladesh and China are also mined, and mine accidents have occurred there. An estimated five million people live in townships that contain mine-contaminated areas, and are in need of Mine Risk Education (MRE) to reduce risky behaviour, and victim assistance for those already injured.
With estimates of mine victim numbers still unclear due to a lack of reliable data, the report finds that a significant proportion of the children affected in landmine accidents in NSA areas are child soldiers. In Karenni/Kaya State every second child is a child soldier; in Karen/Kayin State every fourth child is a child soldier.
The Government's refusal to grant permission for mine action activities and the ongoing conflict have left no real space for humanitarian demining in Burma/Myanmar. However, some demining activities are being undertaken by the Tatmadaw and by NSAs, although it is unclear whether these activities should be regarded as military or humanitarian demining. Similarly, the complicated domestic situation only leaves limited space for implementing comprehensive surveys. Those surveys that have been carried out by Community Based Organizations (CBO), show significant mine contamination. However such surveys can only be an indicator of the reality on the ground as they are limited in geographical scope.
At present, local CBOs and national NGOs have better access to mined areas than the UN and international NGOs. However, CBOs and national NGO mine action activities are limited to MRE and victim assistancerelated activities because of the Government restrictions placed on other forms of mine action.
These activities are only conducted on a discreet level - MRE is provided under general Risk Reduction or health programmes while victim assistance falls under general disability assistance programmes.
A national ban on anti-personnel mines and a ban by the major NSA users of landmines do not seem to be realistic in the near future. Nevertheless, the success of local/regional bans on anti-personnel mines, especially in the western part of Burma/Myanmar could serve as an inspiration and a positive harbinger of progress for this country marred by decades of internal strife and war.