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Border landmines an unseen threat to Rohingya

Myanmar military under growing international pressure to remove the threat to refugees who fled

Border landmines an unseen threat to Rohingya

Salamutullah, 32, a Rohingya refugee who was wounded in a landmine blast in Rakhine, Myanmar at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. (ucanews.com photo)

Stephan Uttom Rozario, Cox's Bazar, Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka, and John Zaw, Mandalay
Myanmar

October 6, 2017

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Salamutullah, 32, is now sheltering with his 15-member extended family at Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar.

Salamutullah, from Buthidaung Township in Myanmar's Rakhine State, said he was injured in a landmine blast while herding cows with three other Rohingya.

"One of us stepped on a mine planted in a road and he died on the spot. Splinters hit my right leg and I collapsed. Local people took me to my home for primary treatment," he told ucanews.com on Sept. 27.

"My family brought me to Bangladesh carrying me on their shoulders during a 12-day journey through forest, hills and by sea before we reached this camp."

"It was a deadly blast, I was lucky to survive. But I cannot forget the haunting memories," Salamutullah said.

At least five people have been killed and a dozen wounded by landmine blasts along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in recent weeks, according to Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) officials.

"Often we see Myanmar soldiers doing something on the ground along the border day and night, and it's not clear what they are up to. But we continue to see wounded Rohingya coming to Bangladesh and some of them have injuries from landmine blasts," Muhammad Rezwan, an official with BGB at the Tambru border area in Cox's Bazar told ucanews.com. 

"People's wounds show they were injured very recently, which means landmines are still along the border."  

Another refugee, Muhammad Abu Taher, 23, from Buthidaung said he narrowly avoided landmines.

"We wanted to get into Myanmar to get some essentials, and found some uprooted trees and displaced soil. We realized landmines had been planted and we returned after pulling out some of them," he said.

Taher said he and his companions retrieved five landmines from the border area and handed them to BGB officials.

 

Army denies claims

Myanmar's military has denied laying landmines in the Rohingya refugees' path to the Bangladesh border areas.

Colonel Phone Tint, Rakhine security minister, told reporters on a government-arranged trip last month that no landmines had been planted by the military.

"The terrorists planted the landmines. The military would never do that," Phone Tint said.

Brigadier General Jalal Uddin, director of Chittagong Medical College Hospital, where Rohingya receive medical treatment, said they had been treating patients for landmine injuries.

"We have treated several patients who were injured by landmines and several patients are still here. They were injured in Myanmar and received primary treatment in various places. Often doctors at border areas refer them to us for better treatment," Jalal Uddin told ucanews.com.

Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world that has refused to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. This is despite ongoing fighting between Myanmar's military and armed ethnic groups since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Bangladesh is a party to the treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, and has destroyed its landmine stocks in accordance with its obligations.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) has strongly condemned the use of antipersonnel landmines by Myanmar's armed forces in recent weeks along the border with Bangladesh.

Antipersonnel mines have been laid between Myanmar's two major land crossings with Bangladesh, resulting in casualties among Rohingya refugees fleeing government attacks on their homes, according to eyewitness accounts, photographic evidence and multiple reports.

 

Eyewitness accounts 

According to information collected by Landmine Monitor, the ICBL's research wing, local researchers interviewing and assisting refugees as they crossed into Bangladesh saw an army truck arrive on the Myanmar side of the border on Aug .28 from which soldiers unloaded three crates. They saw the soldiers take antipersonnel landmines from the crates and place them in the ground.

The mines were placed in the Taung Pyo Let Yar village tract of Maungdaw Township, adjacent to border post No.31 in Bangladesh.

After witnessing mine-laying between 10am and 3pm, the witnesses told Landmine Monitor that they saw Myanmar Army trucks arrive during the night. More crates were unloaded containing landmines that the soldiers placed in the ground. The activity was visible under the lights the soldiers used for their work.

Myanmar's Armed Forces laid a significant mine field along the entire length of the border with Bangladesh during the massive flow of Rohingya from northern Rakhine in 1991 and 1992, according to ICBL.

There have been allegations more mines were laid along the border in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Myanmar records the third highest number of landmine casualties annually. There were 3,745 reported casualties between 1999 and the end of 2014, including dead and injured. In 2014 alone, 251 casualties were reported. The real figure could be much higher, according to the November 2014 Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor report.

The report added that the Myanmar army is one of only a handful of military forces worldwide, along with North Korea and Syria, to still use antipersonnel landmines. It listed Myanmar, along with India, Pakistan and South Korea, as countries actively producing landmines.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has expressed grave concern over the planting of landmines at the border, calling for an immediate stop and urging Myanmar to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty

"Placing landmines in the path of fleeing refugees and on roads where families are likely to travel is heartless beyond words," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at HRW in a statement

"The Burmese government should immediately end its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya population, including by immediately clearing landmines in northern Rakhine State," she said.

In her address to United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 21, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina strongly criticized Myanmar for laying landmines at the border.

 

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