By LAWI WENG
Burma’s ruling military junta blamed ethnic insurgent groups for the country’s high landmine casualty rate at a regional workshop on ending landmine use held in Bangkok today, according to activists from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
Fred Lubang of Nonviolence International, a leading member of ICBL, told The Irrawaddy today that Kyaw Tint Swe, a senior Burmese diplomat, accused the Karen National Union (KNU) and other ethnic anti-government groups of being responsible for the proliferation of landmines.
However, Kyaw Tint Swe added that his government expected the decades-old civil war to end soon, and would then be able to prevent a further increase in landmine casualties in the country.
It was the first time that a representative of the regime had attended a high-level meeting on eliminating landmines.
According to ICBL, Burma has the highest rate of landmine casualties in Southeast Asia, followed by Cambodia and Laos. It is also one of the last countries in the world where landmine production and use is still widespread.
“The ongoing mine use in Burma stands in stark contrast to the complete rejection of mine use that we see elsewhere in the world,” Lubang was quoted as saying in an ICBL press release on Thursday.
Burma had at least 438 new casualties caused by landmines in 2007, up from 246 in 2006. Many more casualties went unreported, the group said.
The ICBL condemned both the Burmese government and ethnic rebels for using landmines.
Meanwhile, the KNU and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), another insurgent group, rejected the junta’s claims that they were primarily responsible for the large number of people killed or wounded by landmines.
Soe Soe, a colonel serving in the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, said that the regime was just rehashing old accusations.
“They always blame us like this,” he said. “They have used these words for a long time.”
Sai Sheng Murng, a deputy spokesperson for the SSA-S, also dismissed the regime’s efforts to point a finger at anti-government groups.
“They always want to describe us to the international community as a terrorist group. But they are the ones who use [landmines] most to attack the ordinary people.”
Burma has the longest-running civil war in Southeast Asia. Both government and anti-government forces use landmines, which are the target of a ban that went into force on March 1, 1999.
Government representatives from more than 17 countries took part in the three-day “Bangkok Workshop on Achieving a Mine-Free South-East Asia,” which concluded today.
The workshop is the second in a series of regional meetings convened in the lead-up to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty’s Second Review Conference, which will take place in Cartagena, Colombia in the week of November 30, 2009.