Pro-Mine Ban party becomes part of Parliament in Myanmar/Burma, HMUB, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, 24 April 2012
In mid-April, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which had previously been prevented from participation in electoral politics in Myanmar won 43 of the 45 parliamentary seats available in a by-election. The National League for Democracy has consistently called for Myanmar to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty as a matter of national urgency since 1999. Most recently, in April 2010, the party issued a 2 page press release quoting from the information in the 2009 Landmine Monitor report of the ICBL, and stating that the party, once in Parliament, would seek for Myanmar to join the international convention which bans antipersonnel mines.
In February 2011, Aung San Suu Kyi, NLD party founder, who has become a parliamentarian as a result of the April election, called on all combatants to ‘cease the way of mines‘ Further, she stated that “If landmines continue to be used, and humanitarian sentiments not mobilized, our nation will not be peaceful. The issue of landmines is not an issue separate to itself. It is an issue for the whole nation. By not resolving this issue through human empathy together it will be very difficult to become a peaceful nation. Therefore I urge everyone to uproot the habit of using landmines.”
In the same month, former General and former Commander in Chief of the Burmese Army Thura Tin Oo,, also co-chair of the NLD, reflecting on the fact that neighboring states had banned landmines stated, “I strongly recommend that landmines must be banned by the Tat Ma Daw, as well as those fighting against them. The good example to be followed is that of our neighboring countries, Thailand and Bangladesh who respect humanitarianism, humanity is given great love and respect and they treasure human beings. We have heard that those two countries have banned landmines in their territories. Therefore governments should halt the use of landmines. Looking on Thailand, a Buddhist country like our own, and Bangladesh, an Islamic country with a humanitarian mind, we a Buddhist majority country should stop mines from being used. Mines must be banned according to both humanitarianism and religion in a civilized world.”
Previous to internationally condemned elections in October 2010, the Burmese Army exercised total control within the country. Coup leaders, with some reshuffling, had maintained power since 1988, and prohibited the National League for Democracy from assuming seats in parliament which they won in the 1990 elections when the results went in a different way than was expected by the military leadership. Prior to the October 2010 elections several military officers were ordered to leave the military in order to take up positions in the new ‘civilian’ government, including, former General, now President Thein Sein. A military created mass mobilization vehicle the Union Solidarity Development Association was turned into the Union Solidarity Development Party, and holds 342 seats in Myanmar’s 664 seat bicameral legislature. In addition to the seats held by the military allied USDP, 166 seats are directly appointed in Parliament by the military.
To date, the issue of mines within the country have only been raised once in parliament, in February 2012, when MPs from ethnic areas requested that mine clearance be pursued. While state media says the parliamentary passed, it is not clear what this means for the development of a humanitarian mine clearance program. Interestingly, at about the same time, President Theing Sein asked two visiting European delegations for assistance in clearing mines laid during the past several decades of armed conflict within the country, the first time that the country had officially acknowledged in bi-lateral meeting that it suffered from antipersonnel mine pollution.
The National League for Democracy joins a few other not-military allied parties which hold seats in Parliament. Most of the other not-military allied parties are from one of the countries many ethnic groups, including the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party; All Mon Region Democratic Party; Phlone Sqaw Democratic Party, Chin National Party and Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, all of which are mine affected areas as well as the NLD breakaway party, the National Democratic Force, who also stated in March 2011 that they supported the call for a ban on antipersonnel mines.
In December 2011 the new Myanmar Human Rights Commission called on all combatants to not use landmines. Two groups who have waged armed struggle against the Burmese Army have raised the issue of mine clearance in peace talks with the government in the past few months. Now with a bloc of parties supporting a landmine ban within the country, the possibility for a halt in mine warfare has come closer, and the long years which will be needed to remove mines previously laid in the ground has come a bit nearer.
Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan is the author of the Landmine Monitor country report on Myanmar/Burma, an annual publication of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.