Humanitarian mine clearance is governed by the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS). It is safe and comprehensive. Clearance programmes run according to IMAS guidelines are transparent and community liaison allows for the local community to have input on clearance priorities and be informed about clearance progress and completion times. This also builds confidence that landmine clearance does indeed make land safe for human use. Quality assurance is an integral part of humanitarian mine action which assures that all parts of a clearance programme are transparent and meet national or international standards.
Armed conflict between the Myanmar Army and the Arakan Army has led to hundreds of thousands of people becoming internally displaced. Since November 2020, both combatants have observed an informal ceasefire. With the conflict now on hold, people displaced by the armed conflict naturally wish to return to their villages as swiftly as possible to regain their livelihoods and live in their own homes. However many are afraid to do so due to use of antipersonnel landmines by both combatant groups. Mine clearance is a per-requisite for return in many cases.
The military states that it will undertake mine removal, but to date, they have not been transparent about the standards they will use. On 15 February, the Myanmar military launched mine removal along the Ann – Sitwe highway starting in Rathedaung Township. It is unclear if the Myanmar military’s primary goal in removing mines along roads is specifically for military purposes – to allow for swifter military mobilization against the Arakan Army. The Rakhine Ethnics Congress has asked them to prioritize village level clearance. The removal of mines along roadways is important for all movement, however clearance of roads will likely encourage people to return prior to any clearance of their village or surrounding lands. It is vital that there is trustworthy information available to local people and agencies about progress of clearance in communities to make safe decisions about any return.
Landmines in forested areas cause the majority of victims injured or killed in Rakhine State. This is also true in other parts of the country, such as northern Shan State and Kachin State. Pre-clearance landmine surveys to determine the likely location and extent of mined areas need to occur to guide any clearance programme in rural communities. Those communities need to be informed of which land is cleared, and which land remains uncleared, when they return to their communities. Mine risk education and development partnerships are essential to help reduce the risk of injury or death for people as they resume their livelihoods. There will need to be widespread knowledge and understanding of clear universally recognized, comprehensive and unambiguous marking of areas that remain contaminated. This means more than a soldier saying to a village head “don’t go there, if you do its not our responsibility.” In most villages, despite the fact that a substantial number of people rely on the collection of forest products, the Myanmar military has stated that it won’t be removing any mines from forested areas. It blames mines laid in those areas on the Arakan Army and has stated it will ask them to clear those mines during negotiations. A breath-taking abdication of state responsibility.