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Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party has called for an end to the use of landmines in Burma following a rise in the number of mine-related deaths.
The party’s spokesperson, Ohn Kyaing, said the call was made because innocent civilians are being killed by landmines used by the Burmese troops and ethnic armed groups. The majority of casualties occur in eastern Burma’s Karen and Shan states, where the Burmese army has been fighting decades-long conflicts with rebel groups.
“Landmines are used in war times. It is no strange thing that armed personnel involved in the fighting are being hit by landmines,” he said. “However [the NLD] is sad to hear that innocent civilians become victims and live their lives in danger because of leftover landmines.”
He added that if the NLD was given the authority to do so, it would sign an agreement like “many countries in the world…to end use of landmines”.
An International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) report in 2007 said that only Burma and Russia continue to use landmines on an ongoing basis, having not signed the global anti-landmine treaty. An earlier ICBL report in 2003 said that both Italian and US-made landmines were being used by the Burmese army.
The NLD statement was supported by the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP) secretary, Aye Thar Aung.
“Landmines are not only being laid in military positions but also in civilian zones such as farmland, hillside cultivations and roads, and this is endangering lives,” he said.
In an effort to block supplies to insurgents, often accused of sheltering in civilian villages, the Burmese army has been known to plant mines along escape routes used by villagers and refugees.
Burma’s eastern Karen state, which borders Thailand, is littered with landmines, the byproduct of a 60-year conflict between the Burmese army and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), both of whom systematically use landmines.
Last week a five-year-old Karen boy was killed and his brother seriously injured after accidentally triggering an unexploded grenade that had been fired close to their village.
The brothers had recently been forced back across the border from Thailand where they had fled to last year after fighting broke out in Karen state. The repatriation by the Thai army occurred despite warnings from aid groups that conditions in Karen state remained dangerous.
Another area of concern is the Burmese army’s use of civilians as minesweepers; people who are instructed to walk in front of troop patrols to detonate mines. Such practices have led to calls for the ruling junta to be investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity.