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Table of Contents
Country Reports
BURMA (MYANMAR), Landmine Monitor Report 1999

BURMA (MYANMAR)

Modern mine warfare in Burma began in 1969, and over the past thirty years mine pollution has increased greatly. Today mines are being laid on a near daily basis by both government forces and several armed ethnic groups. The military government of Burma, formerly known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), now calls itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Mine Ban Policy

The military government did not sign the Mine Ban Treaty in December 1997, or even send an observer to the treaty signing conference. It did not attend any of the Ottawa Process preparatory meetings, did not endorse the pro-ban treaty Brussels Declaration of June 1997, and did not participate in the treaty negotiations in September 1997. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official stated, "We respect the decision of the participants in the Ottawa Process to conclude an international convention, placing a total ban on APLs. Myanmar is, however, not in a position at present to associate itself with those states."[1]

In December 1996, the SLORC voted in favor of U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/51/45/S calling on governments to pursue vigorously an international agreement banning antipersonnel mines. However, shortly before the change in government, then-SLORC Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw told the U.N. in September 1997, "In our view, the real problem lies in indiscriminate use of APLs and the export and trade in these weapons. It is the indiscriminate use of APLs that is actually killing and maiming innocent children, women and men the world over, and it is the export and trade in APLs that is causing the proliferation of APLs, leading to their indiscriminate use. We should effectively address these real issues, rather than reach out for an indiscriminate and all-encompassing total ban on APLs.”[2] Subsequently, the SPDC government was one of the few that abstained on the December 1997 and 1998 pro-ban UNGA resolutions.

Burma has not signed the Convention on Conventional Weapons or its Landmine Protocol. It is a member of the CD, and has indicated its support for negotiating a ban on transfer in that forum, but not a comprehensive ban.[3] In 1998, the government of Burma sent official participants to two regional mine ban forums.[4]

The National League for Democracy (NLD) won an overwhelming majority of the popular vote in the 1990 elections, but has been prohibited from assuming power by the previous and current military governments. The NLD has maintained its right to form the government of the country. Numerous unanimous UN General Assembly resolutions have called on Burma to implement the 1990 election results. The NLD does not maintain an army. The NLD’s policy toward landmines is unknown at this time.

Production--Government

Burma is a producer of antipersonnel mines. In the past, the government produced a blast AP mine, sometimes referred to as a Ludyat mine. This was used mostly in perimeter defense of military outposts. A Burmese officer has said the mine was "of poor quality, little better than those used by the insurgent groups. The trip plates were steel and tended to rust. It did not last more than six years."[5]

Currently the government is manufacturing at least two types of mines. It has been reported that the SPDC purchased mine production equipment from China for making the POMZ-2 fragmentation stake mine and PMN blast mine.[6] The Burmese designation for these mines is MM1 and MM2, respectively. It appears that this transfer has taken place within the last two years. According to one informed observer, the ongoing manufacture of these mines is not possible without some components being purchased from China, and Chinese technical assistance.[7] The mines are produced at State-owned arms factories near Prome.[8] There is no official information from the SPDC on its mine producing capacity, or the technical characteristics of the mines it produces.

Landmine Monitor researchers have received allegations of production of other mines, including Claymore-types, but have been unable to substantiate these claims.

Transfer--Government

There is no evidence, or allegation, that the government has ever exported antipersonnel landmines. The SPDC declares itself supportive of a transfer ban, but has not instituted a formal moratorium or ban on export.

The government has used several types of antipersonnel mines from other countries in the past, indicating importation. These include Chinese, Russian, and U.S.-designed mines.[9] The government has released no official information regarding its imports of AP mines.

Stockpiling--Government

There is no concrete information available about the size or composition of the government’s antipersonnel mine stockpile, beyond the assumption that it contains a mix of the domestically produced and imported mines mentioned above.

Use--Government

Mine use is increasing in Burma today, both by the government and by ethnic military forces.[10]

Both sides use mines for both defensive and offensive purposes. The most frequently mined areas are the perimeters of military bases. However, there have also been reports of mining of roadways, rail lines, dams, pipelines and other infrastructure projects, pathways and berms in rice paddies, on the outskirts of villages, and in jungle areas.

A news account in January 1999 reported that Burmese troops admit to laying 7,000 mines since August 1998 along the Thai border at Kiu Phawok border pass, to deter an anticipated advance of Shan armed forces of the SSA faction.[11]

It has also been reported that Burmese soldiers are laying mines inside Thailand. According to one news account, the first incident on Thai soil involving Burmese laid mines was reported in July 1998. Kin Lungyong, age 70, and Ser, age 30, from Baan Mailan in Tambon Pang Ma Pha, were both killed by an antipersonnel mine one stepped on approximately 300 meters from the Burmese border. When the Thai military came to mark and clear mines in the area, deputy commander Captain Udom Khanthikul stepped on a MM2 (PMN type) mine and lost his right leg. Later, 20 MM2 and 20 MM1 (POMZ-2 type) mines were discovered. The area contains routes used by armed ethnic groups to attack the Burmese military.[12]

Landmine Monitor researchers have encountered repeated examples of mine use by the Tatmawdaw (government troops) directed against the civilian, non-combatant population--notably in the mining of villages to prevent resettlement and of border areas to prevent refugee flows. In these cases landmines are apparently being used as a tool in a carefully planned campaign of terror against the civilian population. In other instances, civilians are being used as a mine removal tool--human mine-sweepers.

The Tatmawdaw is engaged in a massive operation in the central part of the Shan State, in which it is forcibly removing the domestic population from an area of several hundred square kilometers. To prevent people from returning to their home villages, the Tatmawdaw has mined several of the villages.[13] Similar actions have occurred in Karen and Karenni states where villages have been burned and mines laid in the ashes to prevent villagers from returning to their homes.[14]

According to one report, “Soldiers have told the villagers that landmines would be planted on the roads and paths surrounding the settlements after the residents had been relocated to keep them from being reoccupied.”[15]

A Shan woman forced to relocate from her village said, “I didn’t go back to the old village as I didn’t know what I could do there, and as mines had been planted in the old village?.”[16] A Karen refugee who found a landmine in the burned remains of his house said, “They planted mines inside the burned houses to catch people searching through the remains.”[17] A Karenni refugee said, “SLORC deliberately burnt down the villages they thought were important for the rebels. Some villages were not burnt down, but landmines were laid. They passed through Baw Ghu Der township and also burnt down some houses and put landmines there.”[18] A former ethnic commander said, “We ambushed a government patrol which was returning from an operation on a village. After our ambush I took a notebook from the Tat Maw Daw commander. It contained a note saying ‘seven mines in market.’ We let the people of the village know there were mines in the market and they went and found them.”[19]

Certain border areas appear to have been mined specifically to stem refugee flight or border violations. The most heavily mined area of the Burma-Bangladesh border is the easiest place for refugees to cross on foot. It is a low-lying area between two mountain ranges. The minefield is extensive, and has caused the death of 30 migrating elephants in 1998.[20] Many traders, refugees and soldiers have died there.[21] Border passes between Burma and Thailand have also been mined, most notably bordering Shan and Karenni states.[22]

An Arakanese refugee in India said, “SLORC started planting landmines in the tri-border junction area at the time when the first influx of Arakanese refugees started pouring into the Indian side, around 1994-1995. The numbers of landmines have significantly increased since 1997, because that year there were more clashes between the Burmese Army and the CNA and the ALP. In 1994, they used landmines mostly to protect their camp, but in 1997 they also used them to protect their operations.”[23]

Ethnic Armed Groups

Among the organizations which maintain military forces operating within the confines of Burma, those currently involved in military conflict with the central government are the Karen, Shan, Chin, Arakan, Karenni, and Rohingya. The Karen and Karenni are both laying mines. The Shan are believed to be laying mines. The Chin claim they only use command detonated mines.

Other armed groups are operating under actual or defacto cease-fires, more or less, with no reports of current mine use: Mon, Pao, Palaung, Wa, Lahu, Kachin, Naga, and Arakan.

Production--Armed Ethnic Groups

All of the armed ethnic groups, through prior or current military and political alliances, have shared information on production of mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).[24] Mines manufactured by the armed ethnic groups are found in almost all the border states of Burma, with particularly heavy concentrations in Mon, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Kachin states. All the armed groups are believed to be capable of building blast mines. Materials for mine production are readily available. Explosives and detonators are obtained commercially. Casings are typically bamboo, PVC pipe or glass bottles. Many of the mines require batteries for operation, limiting the mine’s life to that of the battery, usually said to be one year. Most of the armed ethnic groups, as well as the militant Burman All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) have, at one time or another, manufactured these simple improvised blast mines. Some groups also make Claymore-type mines (usually command detonated but sometimes rigged to a tripwire). Mortars of all sizes are rigged to function as mines.[25]

Transfers--Ethnic Armed Groups

The Vietnam and Cambodian wars left ample quantities of landmines on the regional black market. Until recent years, these were purchased by ethnic armies on the Thai-Burma border through arm dealers in Thailand.[26] Sometimes the groups agree to make joint purchases. Occasionally one armed group will make a purchase for transfer to another group.[27]

Stockpiling--Ethnic Armed Groups

One knowledgeable source has said that two stockpiles of landmines in the hands of ethnic military forces are estimated to number in the thousands, mostly of indigenous construction.[28]

Use--Ethnic Armed Groups

Mines have been used especially by armed ethnic groups in the Karen, Karenni, Shan, and Chin states. There are also reports of landmines in Kachin, Arakan, and Mon states, as well as in the Tenassarim Division. Active mine laying is occurring in Karen and Karenni states, where the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the forces of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) are attempting to maintain control or harass Tatmawdaw troops. One source claimed that the KNLA is using mines to help keep routes for refugees fleeing the interior open, and that the Tatmawdaw is reciprocating by increasingly its use of mines.[29]

A former military advisor said, “The KNLA use landmines to protect supply routes which also act as escape routes for villagers fleeing to the border. They also use mines to limit the movement of the Tat Maw Daw, who avoid confrontation and areas known to be mined. The KNLA use landmines to make up numbers between themselves and the Tat Maw Daw. They place them on paths known to be used by government troops. The government and the DKBA retaliate by mining destroyed villages, fields and around villages as well as to protect their camps.”[30]

ETHNIC ARMED GROUPS AND LANDMINES[31]

GROUP/
ORGANIZATION

AP MINES IN THEIR TERRITORY

LAYING AP MINES

PRODUCING AP MINES
Mon

Yes

Not Currently

In the Past
Karen

Yes

Yes

Yes
Karenni

Yes

Yes

Yes
Shan

Yes

Claim No (disputed)

Maybe
Wa

Yes

Not Currently

In the Past
Kachin

Yes

Not Currently

In the Past
Chin

Yes

Claim command detonated only

Unknown
Naga

Unknown

Unknown

Unknown
Arakan

Yes

Claim No

Unknown
Rohingya

Yes

Unknown

Unknown
Burman Armed Opposition Groups

___

Yes

Yes

Landmine Problem

There are landmines planted along the Burmese borders with Thailand and Bangladesh, as well as in many parts of the country where armed conflict has been and is being waged between government troops and ethnic armed groups, notably areas in eastern Burma. Mines are found widely in Mon, Shan, Karen, Karenni and Arakan states, and the Tenassarim Division. There are also reports of landmines in Kachin State. There are no reliable estimates of the number of mines planted in Burma, or the amount of land affected.

The Thai military asserts that most--perhaps 70 percent--of its 2,000 kilometer border with Burma is mined. The Thai military found in its initial survey of the border region that the total area of mined land was about fifty-three square kilometers.[32] The Phuchatkan newspaper in Bangkok reported that 7,000 landmines were planted around the Kiu Phawok pass along the border.[33]

The government of Bangladesh has asked the government of Burma to demine a 25-50 kilometer stretch of border, which Bangladesh claims was mined by Burmese border police (Na Sa Ka) in 1995-1996. Many people, as well as elephants, have perished in this minefield.[34] A woman living in a village in Chin State near the Bangladesh border said, “There were many landmines around our villages. So many animals blew up, especially at night time. We had to be careful of landmines since 1988. The Burmese Army warned us not to walk here and there, especially along the footpaths, the small footpaths, not the main paths which the army and civilians are using for traveling.”[35]

Mined areas are not marked in Burma. Maps of minefields are rarely kept by soldiers of either side. Maps that are kept are not accessible to others. A former military advisor said, “Maps? The (ethnic faction) don’t even know what a map is.”[36] In some cases ethnic organizations notify local villagers what areas and paths they have mined without specifying exactly where the mines are. However, villagers who are out tending their fields at the time, as well as neighboring villagers, are not privy to the information and frequently step on these mines.[37] In addition, if the SPDC forces request accompaniment of villagers through a certain area known by the villagers to be mined by opposition forces, villagers are reluctant to inform the SPDC that the area is mined. If they do, they are considered collaborators with the enemy and are often tortured and/or executed.[38]

Mine Clearance and Mine Awareness

There are no humanitarian mine clearance operations in Burma. Even in areas where groups have agreed to a cease-fire with the central government, no demining has occurred, as substantial talks with the government have yet to take place on issues of disagreement. Mine awareness programs appear to be non-existent.

Human Mine-Sweepers

In a particularly reprehensible practice, the Tatmawdaw has regularly seized people from villages and forced them to march ahead of the military in areas suspected of being mined by the ethnic armed forces.[39] This is an extension of a common practice of forced labor and portering which is required by the military of the local population.[40] There have been more and more cases of women and children being rounded up to march in front of troops for the sole purpose of detonating landmines. Amnesty International expressed concern about this practice as far back as 14 years ago.[41] A recent report by the International Labor Organization documented a large number of cases of forced laborer (porters) being used as human mine-sweepers.[42] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese Nobel Laureate, has said "...in many cases it has been claimed that they are used as human mine-sweepers, they go ahead of the troops so that if there are any landmines, those landmines will blow up under them and therefore they clear the way. So [forced] portering is one of the most feared things in Burma. People lose their health and even their lives if they are taken to do a stint of portering."[43]

Landmine Casualties and Survivor Assistance

There is no centralized agency collecting statistics on landmine survivors. Most information has come from a few international non-governmental organizations, or through local medical facilities and practitioners who operate limited assistance programs either within Burma or along the common borders with Thailand and Bangladesh.

Medical assistance is received either in areas controlled by the SPDC or by ethnic organizations, or at facilities in Thailand. Access to first aid and surgical care is dependent on the victim's physical distance from health care facilities and the prevailing security situation in the area at the time of the accident. In a series of interviews with landmine survivors who received care along the Burma-Thai border, the victims traveled from 1.5 hours to 10 days to reach surgery facilities. Medical care received prior to surgery is primitive and dependent upon whether a medic was on hand. Survivors spoke of sometimes being able to receive treatments ranging from salt-water baths to blood-clotting antibiotics.[44]

Medical care is sought in areas where the survivors feel safest. Survivors in areas controlled by ethnic organizations may well seek care in medical facilities located in SPDC-controlled areas. In contrast, some survivors in SPDC-controlled areas may decide to seek assistance in a refugee camp along the Thai border. However, several medical practitioners believe that 50% of all people wounded by landmines die before receiving medical treatment, and at least one close observer of the situation in Karen State believes that figure to be conservative.[45] Both the civilian and military health systems are believed to be chronically under-resourced and corrupt, with the result that there are reported cases of people not having access to prosthetic programs unless they can pay bribes.[46]

Current data allows for no definitive demographic information on who is being injured by landmines. However, figures from a joint prosthetic project run by the ICRC, the Myanmar Red Cross and the Myanmar Ministry of Health provide some indications. Over a 10-year period information was collected from more than 1,200 landmine survivors from border areas. Of these, 10% were children, 16% were women and the remaining 74% were male and potentially former combatants in the ethnic armies.[47] This figure does not include survivors among SPDC forces. A monthly breakdown of statistics for any given region of the country from any source is unavailable at this time. However, the opinion of medics operating in Karen State is that the rate of mine injuries is either remaining constant or increasing.

After surgery it can take anywhere from three months to nine years before a person finds a facility where they can receive a prosthetic device. Information uncovered seems to indicate that little knowledge is made available to landmine survivors as to where they can obtain prosthetic devices. Prosthetic devices are available through international assistance programs of Handicap International and ICRC, as well as through the Myanmar Ministry of Health, the Thai Government Hospitals and Thai Royal projects. The Myanmar Ministry of Health has fitted over 12,000 prosthetic devices over a 12-year period (this figure covers all types of prosthetic needs, not only landmine victims).[48]

Prosthetics made on the Burma-Thai border have a 2-3-year life span.[49] The the average life span of the prosthetics made by the Myanmar Ministry of Health is not known. Rehabilitation on the border is not extensive, as most people leave the program soon after they are fitted. The Myanmar Ministry of Health program has a duration of six months. There is little data available as to what happens to landmine survivors after they are fitted with their prosthetics.

Psychological care appears non-existent. Very disturbingly, one landmine survivor interviewed by Landmine Monitor researchers committed suicide the following day. He had exhibited classic signs of psychological stress such as listlessness, lack of social interaction and loss of appetite prior to committing suicide.

<BHUTAN | PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA>

[1] U Mya Than, Representative of Myanmar to the Conference on Disarmament, Explanation of Vote on Anti-Personnel Landmines, undated document.

[2] U Ohn Gyaw, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Union of Myanmar, Statement to the 52nd Session of the UN General Assembly, New York, 26 September 1997.

[3] Interview with a ministry officer, February 1999.

[4] SPDC and the National League for Democracy in Exile both had representatives at a meeting in Chachoengsao, Thailand in June 1998.

[5] Interview with Burmese military officer, November 1999.

[6] Supadit Kanwanich, “Caught in the Crossfire,” Bangkok Post, 30 August 1998.

[7] Interview with opposition politician, Burma, February 1999.

[8] Bruce Hawke, “Burma’s Weapons Industry,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, December 1998, p. 8.

[9] Interview with Burmese military officer, November 1999; photographic details supplied to LM researchers by the Free Trade Union of Burma; Interview with mine victim in Bangladesh, March 1999.

[10] Phuchatkan, 14 January 1999, and interviews with a Burmese militant, February 1999, a former ethnic military commander, January 1999, a Burmese military officer, November 1998, and ethnic military officers, January 1999.

[11] Phuchatkan, “Burmese Troops Said Plant Mines Along Thai Border,” 14 January 1999.

[12] The Post Publishing Public Co., Supradit Kanwanich,“Burmese Landmines: Caught in the Crossfire,” 30 August 1998.

[13] Interview with ethnic human rights group, January 1999.

[14] KHRG, 5 March 1997; BRC Newsletter, “The Year of Forced Relocation,”April 1997; ABSDF 1997 Report; and interviews with an ethnic organization, January 1999, a refugee in Thailand, January 1999, and a human rights activist in Thailand, January 1999.

[15] “Forced Relocation and Human Rights Abuses in Karenni,” Burma ABSDF report.

[16] Interview with refugee by ethnic human rights group, given to LM researchers.

[17] Interview with Karen refugee in Thailand, January 1999.

[18] KHRG report, 5 March 1997.

[19] Interview with former military commander, January 1999.

[20] The Newsletter Monthly, “Mine Explosion In Burma-Bangladesh Border,” July 1998.

[21] The Asian Age, “Mines Kill 5 Near Burma”; The Newsletter Monthly, “Landmines in Arakan's Killing Zone,” June 1998 and “Mine Explosion in Burma-Bangladesh Border,”July 1998; interview with humanitarian assistance worker in Burma, February 1999.

[22] Supradit Kanwanich, “Caught in the Crossfire”, Bangkok Post, 30 August 1999; “Forced Relocation in Pa-an District”, documented by Health Workers Union (Pa-an district), 19 September 1998; and interview with a Thai military officer, January 1999.

[23] Interview with Arakanese refugee in India, January 1999.

[24] Interview with former ethnic military commander, January 1999.

[25] Interview with ethnic military officer, January 1999, and a former military advisor, February 1999.

[26] Interview with Burmese military official, November 1998, also ethnic military officers, January 1999.

[27] Interview with Activist, December 1998.

[28] Interview with former military advisor, February 1999.

[29] Interview with human rights activist in Thailand, February 1999.

[30] Interview with former military advisor, January 1999.

[31] The Asian Age, “Mines Kill 5 Near Burma”, The Newsletter Monthly, “Landmines in Arakan's Killing Zone”, June 1998, also “Mine Explosion in Burma-Bangladesh Border”, July 1998 and interviews with a hospital administrator in Thailand, January 1999, a representative of an ethnic organization, January 1999, a humanitarian assistance worker in Burma, February 1999, a former ethnic military commander, January 1999, an ethnic human rights group, January 1999, a former military advisor, February 1999, an ethnic military officer, January 1999, an ethnic organization, January 1999, a former military advisor, January 1999, a refugee in Thailand, January 1999, and an ethnic government officer, January 1999.

[32] Interview with a Thai military officer, January 1999.

[33] Phuchatkan, “Burmese troops said to have planted mines along the Thai border”, 14 January 1999.

[34] The Asian Age, “Mines Kill 5 Near Burma”, The Newsletter Monthly, “Landmines in Arakan's Killing Zone”, June 1998, also “Mine Explosion in Burma-Bangladesh Border”, July 1998.

[35] Chin refugee interviewed in February 1999.

[36] Interview with former military advisor, January 1999.

[37] “Dooplaya Under the SPDC: Further Developments in the SPDC occupation of south-central Karen State”, Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), November 1998; also interview with a former military advisor, February 1999.

[38] KHRD Information Update, 14 September 1998

[39] International Labor Organization, Forced Labor In Myanmar (Burma), Geneva, 2 July 1998; KHRG, “Dooplaya Under the SPDC: Further Developments in the SPDC Occupation of South-Central Karen State,” November 1998; KHRG, “Uncertainty, Fear and Flight,” 18 November 1998; KHRG, “SLORC’s 1993 Offensive Against Karen Civilians,”1993.

[40] See, for example, Human Rights Watch, “Burma: The Rohingya Muslims, Ending a Cycle of Exodus?,” September 1996., and “Burma: Entrenchment or Reform?,” July 1995.

[41] Amnesty International Annual Report 1985.

[42] International Labor Organization, Forced Labor In Myanmar (Burma), Geneva, 2 July 1998.

[43] Images Asia video “Forced Labor in Burma.”

[44] Interviews with landmine survivors now refugees in Thailand, January 1999.

[45] “Resume of landmine Accidents situation in Mae Sot area,” Handicap International, January 1999, also interviews with a hospital administrator and a human rights activist in Thailand, January 1999.

[46] Interview with human rights worker in Thailand, March 1999.

[47] Interview RN 18.

[48] ICRC Annual Report 1995.

[49] Interview with a humanitarian assistance worker in Thailand, January 1999.