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Conflict heightens landmine risk

A prosthesis put on one of Cambodia's landmine victims
(David Gough/IRIN)

Recent fighting between government forces and armed ethnic groups in eastern Myanmar has increased the risk of civilian landmine injuries, experts warn.

"With the increase in fighting, mine use will go up, and more actors will be involved," Katherine Kramer, programme director for Geneva Call, a Swiss-based humanitarian organization campaigning for the ban on landmines, told IRIN in Bangkok.

There are landmines in 10 out of 14 states and divisions along the Burmese border, primarily in Karenni, Karen, and Chin states, and more than 10 percent of all townships in Myanmar are contaminated, a report released by the group on 26 January said.

Since the 7 November elections - the country's first in 20 years - hostilities between armed ethnic groups and government forces have intensified; the former have refused to be incorporated into the country's Border Guard Forces (BGF), a unified umbrella army for the Burmese government.

Thousands of people remain displaced as a result.

At the same time, inter-factional conflict between ethnic groups in 2010, especially in Karen state, "led to both more mine use and more known casualties", Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, research coordinator for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a global organization that promotes the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, added.

Mines are used in ambushes, agricultural areas, near villages, in military installations, and alongside paths that may be used by the opposition, he said.

"Most armed groups are reluctant to give up using mines because they don't know how to manage without them," Kramer added.


According to ICBL, mine casualty rates in Myanmar are among the highest in the world, surpassed only by Afghanistan and Colombia.

The actual number, however, is unknown due to difficulties accessing mine-affected conflict zones and the absence of national statistics.

It estimated 2,325 casualties between 1999 and 2008, and 721 in 2008 alone, a figure largely expected to remain the same today.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates the total number of amputees in the country at 12,000, of whom the majority are probably mine victims.

Fifty percent of victims are civilians, including children, according to Geneva Call.

"This is something that all parties should be accountable to," said David Scott Matheison, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The lack of demining activities coupled with increased conflict and use means that "more casualties are assured", Moser-Puangsuwan said.

Six out of the 29 armed groups operating in Myanmar have signed Geneva Call's Deed of Commitment, agreeing to abandon mine use and carry out mine risk education, mapping, advocacy and victim assistance.

However, in such an unstable environment, "it is unlikely it will take place in the near future. But there are opportunities to work with local organizations to mitigate the consequences," Kramer said.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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