Myanmar: Historic agreement on de-mining in place
After many years of civil war, Myanmar is struggling with a significant landmine problem. On September 26th Norwegian People’s Aid signed an agreement with Myanmar's authorities for clearance of landmines. This is the first agreement of its kind, which eventually will make Norwegian People's Aid able to implement mine action activities in the country.
– We are very happy to finally have this agreement in place, says Secretary General in Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), Liv Tørres. She was present at the signing ceremony in Naypyidaw in Myanmar and emphasizes that an important prerequisite for the work to begin is that it is in total agreement with the authorities and local ethnic groups.
There are few or no accurate figures on how many landmines that are contaminating Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. But reports indicate that the country have one of the highest rates of deaths and injuries from landmines worldwide.
The landmines are primarily concentrated around Myanmar's border with Thailand, China and Bangladesh, and initial estimates show that large parts of the border with Thailand have a landmine problem.
Decades of conflict between the authorities and a number of ethnic minority groups has led to tremendous suffering and displaced tens of thousands of people.
– Norwegian People's Aid has initiated a pilot project in which de-mining will hopefully be an important element, and thus contribute to a normalization of the situation. Over 400 000 people are either internally displaced or living in refugee camps across the border in Thailand. Many of these would in time return to their original home towns when the security situation permits. In many regions however, this means that the de-mining must be completed before any repatriation occurs. But it is also important to emphasize that the refugees themselves must decide when it is time to return, says Tørres.
During the signing of the agreement the Minister Aung Min - who heads the government's peace talks with ethnic groups - made it clear that the government wants to improve its relations with the ethnic minorities as part of their reform efforts. One of the key points in the peace process is to normalize the situation in the areas that have been affected by civil war and pave the way so that refugees and IDPs may eventually return.
– To ensure peace and stability in Myanmar, we must contribute to the security of the population. Mine clearance is central to achieving this. Then it will be important to ensure that people have houses, access to food and cultivation of rice fields, not to mention the opportunity for employment, says Mr. Aung Min during the signing ceremony.
The Karen National Union (KNU) are one of the most important ethnic groups which have now signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. In the agreement of April 2012 both the government and the KNU declared that mine clearance will be a part of the peace process.
– Mine clearance is part of the peace process and Norwegian People Aid wish to assist in this process, but we will not begin operations until the authorities and relevant local ethnic groups has given the go-ahead for it, says Norwegian People's Aid's country director in Myanmar, Andreas Indregard.
The authorities have not previously allowed de-mining in Myanmar, but during the last year they changed their position. Norwegian People Aid sees the recently signed agreement as a clear sign of the changes taking place in the country.
– Myanmar has been a closed country until recently. The fact that the government now wants to cooperate with foreign organizations to clean up the mine contaminated areas clearly show the changes that are about to happen in Myanmar, said Secretary General of the Norwegian People's Aid, Liv Tørres.
The country has been under military rule since 1962, but in the spring of 2011, a new government with a civil mandate resumed power. Despite the fact that there has been progress in the peace talks, Myanmar are still affected by armed conflict, particularly in areas where ethnic minorities lives.