First-ever official ICBL mission to Myanmar/Burma

ICBL Delegation meeting with U Aung Min, Minister, President’s Office.

(13 June 2013) An ICBL delegation conducted the first ever, official advocacy visit to Myanmar/Burma 19-23 May, meeting with representatives from the President’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Myanmar Peace Centre, and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

The delegation also visited the Myanmar Disabled Ex-Army Village and spoke with many of the more than 100 military veterans, all landmine survivors. The ICBL delegation was headed by the ICBL Diplomatic Advisor, Ambassador Satnam Singh, and included ICBL campaigner and Landmine Monitor editor Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, as well as two representatives of the newly created Myanmar Campaign to Ban Landmines. The delegation held meetings in Naypyitaw and Yangon.

The mission is the first formal in-country engagement with the new government by ICBL, and responds to political changes within the country especially regarding changing attitudes towards the Mine Ban Treaty. In December 2012, at the Treaty’s Twelfth Meeting of States Parties, Myanmar said it was “reviewing its domestic laws that are not in line with international norms and practices … and … our current status in connection with Convention [Mine Ban Treaty].’’

The extent of landmine contamination in Myanmar is unknown, however information gathered by Landmine Monitor indicates there is some landmine pollution in a majority of the country’s provinces or divisions and the Monitor has consistently reported new mine use in Myanmar since its first annual report in 1999 by both government forces and some non-state armed groups. The Government also produces landmines, though it has never been known to export them.

The post-junta government which came to power in 2011, committed to a national reconciliation and peace-building process, which has resulted in agreements to talk about a peace accord with 10 of 11 ethnic armed groups in the country. Clearance of existing mines is dependent on progress in the national peace dialog.

In their discussions with ICBL, government representatives acknowledged the important role of mine clearance in the peace-building process noting the recently established Myanmar Mine Action Centre within the government’s Myanmar Peace Centre. However, as of May 2013 an official program to remove and destroy mines is not yet operational.

In meetings with the respective ministries, ICBL outlined interim steps, which, if adopted, could bring the country closer to the Mine Ban Treaty. These included a declaration of a moratorium on any further use, production and export of landmines. Additionally, the government was encouraged to launch mine risk education and victim assistance programs in areas under its direct control and to cooperate with civil society and the Myanmar Campaign to Ban Landmines, given the steep challenges and the need for mutual cooperation. ICBL encouraged Myanmar’s enhanced engagement with the Treaty process through regular, high-level participation in key Treaty Meetings and called on the government to revisit previous statements of interest in joining the Mine Ban Treaty.

“During our mission it became evident that there is an understanding throughout all levels of the Myanmar government of the urgent need for mine clearance to secure future peace,” said Landmine Monitor editor Moser-Puangsuwan.