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.The principle impact of landmines in Myanmar is in preventing the return of displaced villagers and rural communities. Along Myanmar’s international borders, close to 1 million refugees live in refugee camps waiting for the day that they can safely return home. Internally hundreds of thousands of IDPs are also living in camps and new host communities, victims of the perpetual cycles of conflict. Landmines and ERW are often cited by these refugees and IDPs as one of the principle deterrents for return, and there is a desperate need for the land to be cleared. Unfortunately however, work is limited until the government and ethnic groups formally permit mine clearance – which is currently suspended until more progress has been made with the peace negotiations.
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 HALO deployed some of the first survey teams in the country, who have begun 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. Our work will thus focus on expanding our knowledge and understanding of the contamination through high-quality survey, while continuing to advocate for the benefits that large-scale humanitarian mine clearance can bring. 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.