by Staff Writers
Yangon (AFP) Nov 13, 2012
The number of reported landmine casualties in Myanmar rose sharply last year, despite signs that the army has reduced its use of the deadly weapons, a study said on Tuesday.
Myanmar, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, is beset by festering insurgencies that have left remote border areas littered with mines and other unexploded ordnance.
But there have been no reports of new mines laid this year in what would be a major breakthrough as the nation emerges from decades of military rule, the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor said.
At least 84 people were killed and 293 wounded by landmines and other unexploded ordnance in 2011, compared with 36 deaths and 238 injuries the previous year, the study found.
More than half of all casualties last year were civilians, while 130 were military personnel with the identity of a further 41 unknown, according to the study, which is based on information from the government, NGOs and the media.
The real number is believed to be higher, the group said, with access restricted to many of the areas peppered by landmines, such as northern Kachin State where ethnic rebels are fighting Myanmar's army.
The report said it was unclear whether the lack of the new army mines reported over the last year could be attributed to democratic reforms or truces with some ethnic rebel groups.
"There have been major changes in the attitude of the authorities toward mine issues," report researcher Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan said.
He said the lack of any recent allegations of landmine use by the government was "a very good sign", but added that it was too soon to say if the military had stopped using the weapons altogether.
Moser-Puangsuwan said peace talks with rebel groups should pave the way for an extensive mine clearance programme.
"The mine clearance capability is ready to go. It is now simply about waiting for discussions between authorities and different ethnic groups. We need to be patient," he added.
Nearly 3,250 people were killed or wounded by landmines in Myanmar between 1999 and 2011, the report said.
In 2010 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines said Myanmar was the only government still laying landmines, although it has since been joined by Israel, Syria and Libya.
There have since been signs of a change of tack, with Myanmar participating in a global anti-landmine summit in November last year.
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