Burma’s deadly legacy due to decades of civil conflict undercuts the impoverished country’s reform process.
In Eastern Burma, villagers are increasingly unwilling to leave their homes from fear of walking on a landmine, or of being coerced into becoming human minesweepers for the Burma Army.
A humanitarian NGO, the Karen Human Rights Group, has released a report documenting the challenges posed by the widespread employment of landmines in Eastern Burma – landmines are used by both ethnic non-state armed groups and Burma’s military.
The report entitled Uncertain Ground: Landmine use in Eastern Burma, focused on the period from January 2011 to May 2012 and used over a hundred oral testimonies, and included photos and interviews.
Ma Nu, a 33 year-old woman from Pa’an district, was blown up by a landmine whilst walking home in April this year. At the time she was seven months pregnant. She was fortunate she and her unborn baby survived the incident.
Burma’s army uses villagers as human minesweepers in contaminated zones. One horrific example dated February 4th 2012, describes how members of Burma’s elite military border guard force used villagers from Dewh Loh Township in Papun district as human minesweepers.
“They forced villagers to walk at the front of the column of soldiers, so they would step on landmines along the road instead of the soldiers.”one of the villagers when interviewed by the KHRG, “some of the villagers had their legs blown off,” he added.
The KHRG also warns that the clearing of landmine zones can open up local villages to the mercy of Burma’s military or armed ethnic rebel groups, leading to cases of torture, forced labour and extortion.
“Humanitarian actors must recognise the interrelated nature of human rights abuse in Eastern Burma, and address the fact that landmine removal may facilitate other forms of abuse.” The KHRG stated.
In a 2011 report conducted by the humanitarian organisation Geneva Call, it was estimated that 5.2 million people live in areas contaminated by landmines in Burma.