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Landmine casualties in Burma double

July 16, 2009 (DVB), The number of people killed by landmines in Burma has increased in the last year while survivors face difficulties receiving adequate healthcare, said an anti-landmine campaign group yesterday.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the number of victims with no access to healthcare is "substantial".

Burma is one of only 17 countries that abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution in 2005 to ban the use of landmine. Similarly, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.

The latest figures on landmine victims in Burma were collected by Landmine Monitor in 2007, and show a 90 percent increase from 2006.

International monitoring bodies have also said that the use of civilians as minesweepers, to walk in front of army patrols to prevent the unit taking the blast from a landmine, is prevalent.

"It's been reported for years that they've been using prison labourers to walk ahead of the military," said David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch.

"Civilians in conflict areas are used depending on the army unit. [Minesweeping] is not a clear policy, it's a practice, and so that depends on the unit or the commander."

Landmine victims, particularly from Karen state, which is littered with mines laid both by the Burmese army and the opposition Karen National Union, often cross the border into Thailand to receive treatment.

"Around 60 to 70 percent of the landmine victims we receive are civilians," said Dr Synthia Maung from the Mae Tao clinic in Thailand's border town of Mae Sot, adding that the figure "includes women and children".

According to Landmine Monitor, 47 people in Burma died in 2007 from landmines, up from 20 the year before, although it warns that this figure is not conclusive. More than half the states and divisions in Burma are contaminated with landmines.

The only armed groups in Burma to have ratified the Mine Ban Treaty are "very small groups who probably could not afford landmines", said Mathieson.

Non-governmental organizations such as Medicins Sans Frontier have withdrawn from Burma partially as a result of restrictions imposed by the government on access to landmine victims.

"I don't really see that there have been any moves by the SPDC or the main non-state armed groups to eradicate the use of landmines," said Mathieson.

"Most of them are heavily dependent on the use of landmines and IEDs [improvised explosive device]."

Reporting by Francis Wade


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