Landmines on Myanmar/Burma – Bangladesh border & the flight of the Rohingya

Mine warfare
Mine warfare has been a feature of armed conflict in Myanmar/Burma for decades. 1  In September 2016, the deputy Minister of Defense Major General Myint Nwe acknowledged in the Myanmar Parliament that Myanmar’s Armed Forces do use landmines within the country. 2 In June 2017, an officer at Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense stated to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) that its forces do not use mines near heavily populated areas.

Rohingya flight and mine use on the border since 1991
The first massive outflow of Rohingya people, nearly a quarter of a million, from Northern Rakhine State (NRS) occurred in 1991 and 1992. Following widespread condemnation of Burma at that time by the muslim world, Myanmar’s Armed Forces laid a significant mine field along the entire length of its border with Bangladesh. Bangladesh officials and humanitarian workers stated at the time that Burma’s boundary mine field was laid for the purpose of deterring further flight out of the country by the Rohingya, and also to harass cross border movement by several Rohingya and Rakhine armed groups active at that time. 3 The 1991-2 exodus led to the refugee camps on the Bangladesh-Burma border, and the presence of the UNHCR in Burma in 1994 to assist with the repatriation of Rohingya to Burma from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh claimed that some of the landmines laid by Burmese military forces were on the Bangladesh side of the border, in part due to poor demarcation and thick jungle along their shared border. Citizens of both sides, and animals, including elephants, have become victims of the mines laid on the joint border between Bangladesh and Burma.
Mined areas are reported to exist along the entirety of Burma’s border with Bangladesh, from the Naf River to the tri-border junction with India. These form the largest purpose laid mine fields in the country.
Recent allegations of further mines being laid along the border with Bangladesh occurred in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 4 Bangladesh does not lay mines on its border, and is a State Party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Due to demilitarization agreements along its border, Bangladesh has repeatedly raised all allegations of new mine laying in flag meetings between military officers of the two countries. Previously, in April 2017, the Bangladesh government had announced that an agreement had been reached between Border Guard Bangladesh and Myanmar Police Force to remove improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and land mines along the border of the two countries. 5

Post October 2016 situation
Since October 2016, the situation in NRS has deteriorated, following the rise of a new armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). Subsequent widespread military operations, allegedly in response to attacks by the ARSA, have led to a new exodus by massive numbers of Rohingya from NRS.
Some of the current wave of refugees have stepped on landmines during their attempts to leave Myanmar. 6 International news agencies and human rights organizations have stated that they have witness testimony of new use of landmines by Myanmar’s Armed Forces along the NRS-Bangladesh border, and this has reportedly led to the issue being raised with Myanmar by Bangladesh authorities. 7

On 11 September 2017 Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated at the opening of the 36th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, that he was “appalled by reports that the Myanmar authorities have now begun to lay landmines along the border with Bangladesh.” 8

UPDATE 19 SEPTEMBER 2017

The ICBL/Landmine Monitor has verified that recent mine victims were from newly laid mines.

On 28 of August, humanitarian workers providing relief to refugees camped on the Zero line of the border witnessed an Army truck arrive on the Myanmar side and unload three boxes from which soldiers took mines and placed in the ground. This continued on that day from 10am until 3pm. The mines were laid commencing in Taung Pyo Let Yar village tract of Maungdaw Township, which is adjacent to border pillar No. 31 in Bangladesh. This area demarcates the beginning of the land border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, as south of this area the border follows the Naf River.

New mine use was witnessed along about a 20km stretch of the shared border between Burma and Banladesh. This stretch lies between the two main land crossing routes between Burma (Maungdaw township) and Bangladesh (Bandarban District). Subsequent to the daytime landmine operation, the Burmese Army brought trucks at night to continue laying mines, which could be seen under the lights by which they worked. Mine laying continued during the next few days, and was witnessed progressing along the border to the northeast in Mee Taik, Nga Yant Chaung, Hlaing Thi, Bauk Shu Hpweit and In Tu Lar townships. Mine laying was last seen continuing to the east of In Tu Lar township.

All mines were laid on the eastern side of the border fence. 9

Notes:

  1. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines annual Landmine Monitor reports have documented mine use by the Tatmadaw (common acronym referring to Myanmar’s Armed Forces) and by ethnic armed groups within the country for every year since the Landmine Monitor first published in 1999.
  2. See Landmine Monitor Report 2016, Myanmar/Burma Ban Policy profile.
  3. See Landmine Monitor 2000, Burma Country Report. In the early 90s several armed groups existed in that border area, including the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, the Arakan Rohingya National Organization, the Arakan Army and the Arakan Liberation Army.
  4. See the Myanmar/Burma Ban Policy profiles in Landmine Monitor annual reports 2013, 2014 and 2015.
  5. BD, Myanmar agrees to remove land mines from border,” The Financial Express (Dhaka), 6 April 2017.
  6. See, for example, “Three Rohingya reported killed by suspected mine in Myanmar,” Prothom Alo (Bangladesh), 10 September 2017.
  7. See, Amnesty International, “Myanmar Army landmines along border with Bangladesh pose deadly threat to fleeing Rohingya,” News, 9 September 2017; and Krishna N Das, “Exclusive: Bangladesh protests over Myanmar’s suspected landmine use near border,” Reuters, 5 September 2017; and Ananya Roy, “Bangladesh accuses Myanmar government of laying landmines near border,” International Business Times, 6 September 2017.
  8. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, “Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries,” United Nations Human Rights Council, Geneva, 11 September 2017.
  9. Refugee assistance workers who wished to remain anonymous. Email and phone interviews, 17 September 2017.
 
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