The ruling authorities in Myanmar and ethnic armed groups commenced dialogue on a national ceasefire agreement (NCA) in early 2014. Consistent discussions, which from the beginning was going to be a long process given the number of years of armed conflict which have taken place, have yielded a draft of a national ceasefire agreement. Final discussions are ongoing.
It is usual for a ceasefire agreement to identify certain acts as prohibited, acts which are considered violations of the agreement, and to specify a process for monitoring, verification and remedy of any allegations of violations.
Violations always occur, however if the political will is strong, and a rapid reaction by monitors remedy the violation, over time, trust can be built and the ceasefire will become stronger to the point the parties feel confident in concluding a comprehensive peace agreement.
The current draft contains language related to the use of antipersonnel mines. As it should, mines have been laid in atleast fifty townships of the country according to Landmine Monitor Report 2014.
According to the draft NCA, agreed by a drafting team from both sides in March 2015, under Chapter 3: Ceasefire related matters, point 5 (a) it states that, “Both parties agree to end the following activities: …. planting of landmines…”
Section 5 (e) states, “In line with progress on the peace process, both parties agree to cooperate on the process of clearing all landmines planted by both sides’ armies. Joint efforts on landmine clearing projects shall be carried out in close consultation with different levels of the government.”
This is good news. However, it is not a ban.
A ban is a total prohibition on the possession, trade and production of the weapon, as well as a total prohibition on use. The geographic scope of the current draft agreement is ambiguous. Can, for example, the Myanmar Army use landmines on its borders with India, but not against an ethnic armed group party to the agreement? If the prohibition on use is not comprehensive, it is not a ban. The agreement should make clear if it requires an end to planting of landmines at all times and places in Myanmar. It remains to be seen how the parties to this agreement interpret and implement it.
It is also good news that the parties pledge to cooperate on a process of clearing ALL landmines, which anyone has planted. However, it is not clear how the second sentence will be interpreted and implemented. Will a National Mine Action Center be established. Will the Myanmar Army and all ethnic groups be required to turn over any and all records of places their forces have placed antipersonnel mines? Will the mines be cleared to international standards? Or will the parties only clear the mines jointly, applying whatever standards they want, in an adhoc way? Already two adhoc, and short lived, joint efforts to clear mines were launched. Both ended after a combatant was injured during the clearance. No records of these activities were known to be kept. No standards were known to have been followed. No one can confidently say those areas were cleared of all deadly hazzards.
Some of the worlds foremost mine clearance organizations, together with staff from the Myanmar Peace Center, drafted the Myanmar Mine Action Standards in a one year open consultative process. Since the standards were drafted they were submitted to the government for approval and have not been seen since. Those draft national standards benefited from the lessons learned in clearance in other mine affected countries over the past two decades. The authorities should approve them for use immediately and implement them.
If the pledge to end use by the authorities applies to all times and places, then they no longer need to produce further mines or retain stockpiles. The best way to assure this occurs is for the authorities to make this unambiguous by joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty immediately.