Burma’s Department of Social Welfare is rolling out a “mine risk education” program with the cooperation of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) following in the footsteps of Congo and Cambodia.
Mine and unexploded ordnance awareness as well as demining programs were conducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cambodia after the end of their brutal internal conflicts. Burma’s parallel initiative comes amid the central government negotiating ceasefires with various ethnic rebel armies in an attempt to achieve lasting peace deals.
International NGOs such as UNICEF, UNHCR and Dan Church Aid (DCA) are also collaborating under the scheme, run by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, to train representatives of community-based organizations (CBOs).
So far, around 170 CBO workers from Rangoon, Mandalay and Taunggyi and Lashio in Shan State have been provided with “mine risk education” by DCA. Some trainees from Myanmar Red Cross, Save the Children and World Vision are also involved.
Another workshop will soon be held in Pa-an, the capital of Karen State, by DCA with around 60 trainees due to attend, according to an NGO source who asked to remain anonymous for operational reasons.
The program, which started on Feb. 20, is based around five key messages—mine awareness, recognizing warning signs, treatment of mine accidents, safety in landmine areas and first aid after explosions.
Norwegian People’s Aid is currently conducting mapping projects in the country. Since 1999, the DCA has been involved in landmine education and demining in Congo, Bosnia, Lebanon and most recently Laos.
“As Burma starts to open up, many NGOs want to conduct demining in the country,” said the source who has also conducted mine risk education in Congo.
However, observers say it would take many years to complete a comprehensive demining program in Burma.
In Cambodia, removing explosive devices has been conducted over two decades, but hundreds remain undetected and still cause injury and death today.
“If you want to do demining, you need to have a very good database and agreement from respective people,” said the NGO worker. Mine risk education, mapping and surveying are essential before demining programs, he added.
Saw Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development that provides aid to internally displaced persons in Karen State, said that an NGO from Norway plans to conduct a pilot demining project in the Kyaukgyi area of Pegu Division.
However, it can only go ahead with the agreement of local rebel groups, such as the Karen National Union, and the Burmese government.
“Demining is important, but people think the withdrawal of Burmese troops is more important,” said Htoo Klei.
In 2011, Burma was joined by only three other countries—Israel, Libya and Syria—in the exclusive club that still actively employs the deadly explosives, according to a report by the Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
The report said that both the Burmese government and non-state armed groups continue to use anti-personnel landmines despite the country moving to nominally civilian rule in early 2011. Ethnic armed groups are understood to generally use homemade explosive devices.