Myanmar still using landmines, global casualties 'exceptionally high': report

The debris of a car normally used to transport landmine victims to hospital lies on the side of a road between Hsipaw and Lashio in Myanmar's northern Shan State. (Margarite Clarey/TNH)

Myanmar is the only government whose security forces deployed landmines in the last year, according to a new report that flags “exceptionally high” global casualty numbers from mines and other explosives despite a widely adopted ban on the weapons.

The Landmine Monitor report, released last week, tallied nearly 6,900 casualties from landmines and other explosives in 2018, largely driven by conflicts in Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Syria, and Ukraine.

It comes as countries who have signed on to a treaty banning landmine use meet in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, today for a summit aimed at reviewing eradication goals.

While global casualty figures are less than last year, they’re nearly double what was recorded in 2013 – continuing the reversal of a longer-term trend in falling casualties.

The report – an accounting of casualties and global stockpiles, as well as on progress towards mine removal and victim assistance – is released annually by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The coalition of NGOs spearheaded the anti-mine movement, leading to the 1997 treaty that banned the weapon’s use.

The coalition says 164 countries have signed on to the treaty. But 33 others have not, including some of the world’s largest stockpilers of landmines: the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, and India.

From mid-2018 to October 2019, government security forces deployed mines in only one country, Myanmar, underscoring the ongoing conflicts raging on multiple fronts in the Southeast Asian nation. Accused of widespread rights abuses, Myanmar’s army largely operates without civilian oversight

Conflict between the military and the Arakan Army, a militant group drawn from the country’s ethnic Rakhine minority, has displaced about 40,000 people this year, the UN says. The Landmine Monitor report says there’s evidence of landmine casualties in previously uncontaminated areas.

Ongoing conflicts in parts of Kachin and northern Shan States also continue to trap civilians, and a surge in landmine use is also fuelling a migrant exodus in some areas.

While Myanmar’s army was the only government security force to deploy landmines in the last year, anti-government groups in Afghanistan, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen also used the weapons. Researchers said they were unable to confirm allegations of landmine use in Cameroon, Colombia, Libya, Mali, the Philippines, Somalia, and Tunisia.

Afghanistan, where the civilian toll continues to hover near record highs as its conflict intensifies, topped the list of landmine casualties in 2018.

Even though most countries have signed on to the landmine ban, there’s still a large global stockpile among treaty signatories, which are allowed to retain mines “for training and research”.

Still, these totals are just a fraction of the stockpiles held by countries who haven’t signed on: Russia’s cache of anti-personnel mines is estimated to be at least 26.5 million.

il/ag

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