Tag Archives: Landmines

Myanmar’s landmines hinder return of displaced

5 April – Landmines in Myanmar’s south eastern Kayin and Kayah states and Bago division, and in the northern Shan and Kachin states, threaten the return of more than 450,000 refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). 

“There will be no active promotion of return until landmines areas are identified, openly marked and cleared,” said Maja Lazic, senior protection officer at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Myanmar. 

While the exact extent of landmine pollution throughout Myanmar is unknown, the army and at least 17 non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have used anti personnel mines in conflicts over the past 14 years, according to the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Myanmar’s central government faces a number of long standing ethnic-based insurgencies by groups demanding greater autonomy. 

“Anti-personnel mines are used as terror weapons by both sides… [Some] are not marked because the combatants want to strike fear into the enemy. This results in both sides terrorizing the [civilian] population with mines,” said Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, ICBL’s research coordinator for Myanmar. 

The decline of active conflict in south eastern Myanmar in the past year has led to a slight decrease in reported incidents of mine accidents, according to the ICBL and Geneva Call, a Swiss NGO that specializes in mine-risk education. But no armed group has yet officially committed to ending mine use, said Moser-Puangsuwan. 

Mine clearance cannot take place until there is durable peace, say the UN and NGOs. Meanwhile, unreliable information about the location of mines continues to kill, restrict villagers’ movement and stall preparation for the return of displaced populations. 

Peace process 

The government has signed ceasefire agreements with five NSAGs since January 2012, but trust and collaboration between the various NSAGs and government forces – preconditions for mine removal – are still needed, according to the UNHCR Myanmar. 

“The process requires agreement, cooperation and support from conflict parties,” said Lazic and Patricia Treimer, a field officer with UNHCR Myanmar. 

The ceasefires have not significantly reduced the use of landmines, as NSAGs, government forces and even civilians continue to employ landmines to defend and reclaim territories and protect themselves. 

A spokesperson for the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), which authored a May 2012 report on landmines in the east, said that in Kayin State “the ongoing presence of [military] troops means that even though there is a ceasefire, communities and armed groups still take defensive measures, including the planting of landmines”. 

Active conflict since June 2011 in Kachin State has displaced upwards of 83,000 people from Kachin and parts of neighbouring Shan. All those displaced are at risk of landmine injuries upon their return, say aid workers. 

“[Landmine] incidents have been reported in many regions of Kachin where there has been active fighting,” said Carine Jaquet, the head of the UNHCR’s Myitkyina field office. 

Fighting has decreased in recent months in Kachin (with ongoing skirmishes in Shan), but “people are in danger once they attempt to return to their villages,” she added. 

“Before the IDPs have a chance to return back, there has to be humanitarian mine action, a security guarantee from both sides and durable peace,” said La Rip, the coordinator of the Laiza-based Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees, a network of 12 NGOs providing relief to displaced persons in both government and rebel-controlled areas. 

Fears of casualty spike 

No mine mapping has been conducted in mine-riddled southeastern Myanmar. Signs marking mined locations are rare and local knowledge about landmines is unreliable, resulting in the frequent landmine incidents, say experts. But it can be even worse for those who have been away. 

“Refugees have not had to live with mine risk concerns for many years now, so their awareness of the risks is much lower [than those who stayed],” explained Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO consortium providing aid to Burmese refugees in Thailand. 

Many cross-border routes into southeastern Myanmar are known by locals and NGOs to be contaminated with mines, according to Geneva Call. 

Nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border urgently need more mine-risk education, said TBC. “People will be moving as soon as they feel armed conflict has really ended, and we expect there will be a spike in mine casualties as a result,” Moser-Pangsuwan said. 

Because peace processes and mine clearance may take years, education is the most practical way of decreasing accidents, according to TBC. 

Mine action plans underway 

Humanitarian agencies clearing mines, including the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Danish Church Aid, have been working with the government since November 2012 on mine issues. 

The first Mine Risk Working Group meeting in Myanmar was held in January in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, with UNICEF, Danish Church Aid, the Department of Social Welfare, and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. 

“All of the agencies are ready to begin demining activities but are waiting for the government and armed groups to reach an agreement,” said Chris Rush, senior programme officer for Geneva Call in Asia. 

In addition, the Myanmar Peace Centre, a government initiative established last October, includes the Myanmar Mine Action Centre, which is currently developing removal standards. 

“There is a real push to clear mines, but it is not sensible without understanding where the problem is,” said Rush. 

The Myanmar government is among the 20 percent of all governments that have not signed the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Along with Syria, it is the only country whose official forces continue to plant mines, according to Moser-Puangsuwan. 

“Landmines are one issue, of many issues, affecting return for the displaced. The first measure is an agreement between government and armed groups to stop laying landmines,” said Thompson. 

[Courtesy of IRIN News]


SIERRA LEONE: Amputees still waiting for reparations almost 10 years on

  • FREETOWN, 24 October 2011 (IRIN) – James Ponbu, 43, had his arm amputated by rebels in January 1999. After receiving medical treatment at the Connaught hospital in Freetown, he tried to return to his job at the canteen of Fourah Bay College but was not accepted back. He has found it hard to get work ever since, despite having a college degree. Even his friends shun him: “People barred me from entering their compounds as they thought I’d just ask them for money,” he told IRIN.

Cutting off peoples’ limbs – in most cases their hands – was one of the brutal strategies used by members of the Revolutionary United Front to terrify people to support them. Some 27,000 Sierra Leoneans are estimated to have been disabled or have had one or more of their limbs amputated during the 1991-2002 civil war.

In 2004 the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC), set up to try to deliver accountability for human rights abuses, issued a report recommending that amputees, war widows, children, victims of sexual violence and the seriously war-wounded, should receive reparations in the form of free education for children, free health care and skills training to be managed by the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA).

Since then of the 32,000 people registered, 20,107 have received only a cash handout of between US$70 and $200, and 12,000 have received nothing at all.

NaCSA also provided fistula surgery for women who had been raped, and gave some emergency medical assistance (such as bullet-removal) to the severely war-wounded, said Sattie Kamara, NaCSA reparations programme outreach coordinator. She admitted the government should be responsible for reparations but said NaCSA did not have the funds to do anything more. It dedicated $319,000 of its own budget, and relied on US$3 million provided by the UN Peacebuilding Fund to cover the handouts. Previous reparations manager Amadu Bangura estimated it would take US$14 million to run the reparations programme.

Poor planning is also to blame, as arrangements need to be set up with the ministries of health and education, but discussions “take time” and have thus far not led to much, according to Kamara.

The government has estimated in the past that some 100,000 people would be eligible for reparations. 

The Sierra Leone amputee association, set up in 2000 to represent amputees, tries to help, giving food and clothing when it can, said chairman Alhaji jusu jaka Ngobeh, but it relies on help from churches, mosques and a few NGOs.

NGO Fambul Tok (Family Talk in local language Krio) brings together victims and offenders at the village level to talk about atrocities that were committed, as part of a community healing process.

Though reparations are not involved, when they can, perpetrators sometimes offer financial support to help the victim or their family. Some say this is a more sustainable, practical form of reparations, given the sheer extent of the suffering that took place across the country.

On a day-to-day basis, most amputees in Freetown survive by begging as even those who are educated beyond secondary school level find it hard to get work, said Vandi Konneh in Freetown. A lucky few find work on construction sites or collect firewood and coal, he said. Rather than attend school, most of the children of amputees also beg as their parents cannot afford to pay their school fees.

The standard $70 handout was useful to cover his basic food and clothing needs, but was not enough to help him rebuild his life, he said.

The amputee association has pressured the government to act on the TRC recommendations, but to little avail, said chairman Ngobeh. In May of this year the Ministry of Social Welfare did a survey of street beggars in urban areas, many of whom are amputees, with a view to advocating more help, according to Social Welfare Minister Dennis Sandi.

[Courtesy Irin News]

SOMALIA: Child Landmine Victims

(IRIN) – Somalia’s self-declared independent region of Somaliland has experienced an increase in landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) explosions in the recent past, with officials calling for mine awareness education in schools, as children have been the main victims.

“Child victims of land mines have increased in Somaliland in the past two months,” Ahmed Ali Maah, director of the Somaliland Mine Action Center (SMAC), told IRIN. “Some 93 children have been killed by landmines in the past three years.

Farhan Abdi Saleban, a child protection officer with Comprehensive Community-Based Rehabilitation in Somaliland (CCBRS), a local NGO, said three children died and five were injured by landmines in January; and two others were injured in December 2010.

“Case fatalities and injuries associated with mine and UXO explosions have lately increased in the country,” Saleban said. “A high proportion of the victims are children, according to comparative data/information recorded for the past two months.”

Saleban said strategic interventions, including effective continuing mine-risk education and psychological rehabilitation of landmine survivors, were needed.

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SOMALIA:Children Main Victims of Landmines

Somalia’s self-declared independent region of Somaliland has experienced an increase in landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) explosions in the recent past, with officials calling for mine awareness education in schools, as children have been the main victims.

“Child victims of land mines have increased in Somaliland in the past two months,” Ahmed Ali Maah, director of the Somaliland Mine Action Center (SMAC), told IRIN. “Some 93 children have been killed by landmines in the past three years.”

According to the UN Development Programme (UNDP), 400,000-800,000 landmines were laid in Somaliland between 1988 and 1991 alone. At least 24 types of anti-personnel mines from 10 different countries have been identified in Somaliland.

Read More Here