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Landmine survivor needs outstrip aid

Zaw Lwin, 42, lost his leg to a landmine 12 years ago in the eastern part of Myanmar's Bago Region. 34 of the country's 325 townships - home to 5.2 million people - are considered landmine-contaminated Zin Win/IRIN
Myanmar has one of the world's highest casualty tolls by landmines, but for years the country has received little international aid for survivor assistance, risk education and other mine action. The numbers are changing, however.

"Myanmar gets very, very little funding compared to any other country that has a landmine victim population of its size," said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, with the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

While international donations for mine action worldwide have doubled over the past decade, contributions have remained low in Myanmar because the government has refused humanitarian groups access to mine-affected areas, and the country has not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, according to NGOs.

Of the 4,191 recorded landmine casualties in 2010, 274 occurred in Myanmar - the fifth highest in the world after Afghanistan (1,211), Colombia (512), Pakistan (394), and Cambodia (286).

Those countries, respectively, received US$102.6 million, $12.1 million, $3.4 million, and $24.3 million in 2010 from international donors - versus Myanmar's $36,000 from Norway's government, according to ICBL's 2011 Landmine Monitor.

This figure excludes monies not reported to ICBL, which for Myanmar included funds from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said Moser-Puangsuwan.

The Norwegian government backed a study in 2010 on the humanitarian impact of landmines and has increased its contribution to about $500,000, said Arne Jan Flølo, the Myanmar desk officer at the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok.

The US government has pledged $200,000 to help survivors.

Progress report

Campaigners against landmines point to recent developments in the country as signs the time has come to "be more brave" in fighting landmines in Myanmar, noting its participation in a recent gathering in Cambodia of signatories to the mine ban treaty.

"There seem to be openings," said Katherine Kramer, Asia's programme director for the NGO Geneva Call. "There are venues to start a dialogue with the government... by offering assistance for humanitarian mine action."

U Win Naing, Myanmar's deputy director-general in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said "careful consideration" was the most appropriate way forward on the issue of landmines, during an address at the annual Meeting of States Parties from 28 November to 2 December in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

"Myanmar also believes that the legitimate right of every state to self-defence in matters of its national security must be recognized and respected in considering this issue," he said, according to a transcript of the speech.

It was the first time a Myanmar official had addressed the gathering.

"I'm really hoping that, with the government's presence at this meeting, they [the government] might be more open to humanitarian mine activity, and then I'm sure funds will increase," said Kramer.

"If you can't do activities openly, then it becomes much more difficult to put large amounts of funds into projects."

An "extremely significant" development came in November when a government minister met five major armed groups to discuss a ceasefire, said Moser-Puangsuwan. Since then, the government has signed a formal ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army-South, according to local media.

Any ceasefire agreement must prohibit landmine use and allow NGOs access to mine-affected communities, said Moser-Puangsuwan.

Non-state armed groups must sign on, too.

"For the people living in the conflict areas, not much has changed," Moser-Puangsuwan said. "Until there's an end to armed conflict in that country, there's still going to be mine use."

Myanmar was one of four countries worldwide where government forces used anti-personnel landmines in 2011 and the only country where both state and non-state armed groups used them in 2010-2011, according to ICBL.

Since 1999, at least 2,861 people in Myanmar have been injured or killed by landmines but the actual figure is believed to be much higher, campaigners say.


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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