Myanmar has suffered the longest-running civil war in history, with fighting between the army and ethnic armed groups on-going since the late 1940s. This has led to hundreds of thousands of people being killed and displaced.
In 2011 after half a century of military rule, the army handed power to a civilian government, although military figures still retain strong influence. However, the free and fair elections in November 2015 returned a civilian government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and are welcomed as a key stepping stone towards peace.
Significant areas of the country, particularly along the borders with Thailand, China and Bangladesh, are contaminated by landmines – primarily anti-personnel – laid by both sides over many decades and other explosive remnants of war, some dating back to World War II. There has been no formal survey, but it is estimated that more than fifty townships are affected – a serious problem for a population which relies on agriculture for subsistence.. Furthermore, over 100,000 refugees are currently housed in camps in Thailand, with landmines and other ERW often preventing their ability to return home. There is a desperate need for the land to be cleared, however work is limited until the government and ethnic groups formally permit mine clearance.
HALO has had a limited presence in Myanmar since 2012, establishing contacts and relationships with senior officials and diplomats until the political climate allows work to begin in earnest. The government and most ethnic armed groups are not willing to permit humanitarian mine clearance until there is a formalised nationwide ceasefire to which all parties are signatories. Progress is being made towards this.
Until such time as formal permission for clearance is granted, HALO is working to mitigate the threat by all means possible. Our staff participate in national working groups and have conducted advocacy by providing demonstrations on Humanitarian Mine Action to interested actors from all parties. After receiving full training at HALO Cambodia’s programme, senior national members of staff have also passed on their knowledge to new recruits who are currently conducting Mine Risk Education (MRE) operations in Shan and Kayin States. In these states HALO is also providing assistance to victims of landmine accidents. In 2017 we will be deploying some of the first survey teams, who will begin in earnest the process of identifying and mapping hazardous areas to help reduce civilian accidents and enable the safe return of refugees. This is a significant step forward in our ultimate goal of clearing Myanmar of landmines.
Our mission is to realise a mine-free Myanmar through large-scale mine clearance. In the absence of a country-wide survey, there is little indication as to how long this will take. The recent progress with nationwide peace negotiations and the elections in 2015 suggest that Myanmar is close to achieving a state of stability not seen for decades. Mine clearance and explosive ordnance disposal will be absolutely vital in supporting this transition. In the meantime we are grateful to our donors UK DFID, the Myanmar Humanitarian Fund (UNOCHA)and Actiefonds Mijnen Ruimen for supporting our MRE and survey operations thus far, but we urgently need additional support to continue our essential work, help end the decades of suffering and allow refugees to return home.