Burmese Military Use Landmines Against Rohingya As They Flee Violent Conditions

Amnesty International has accused Myanmar of using anti-personnel landmines in the path of fleeing Rohingya. This follows what the Burmese military has called ‘clearance operations’ in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar police. These attacks took place on the 25th of August 2017. The clearance operations against the Rohingya group have caused them to flee to across the border to Bangladesh. The international community has condemned the clearance operations, declaring them as an act of genocide.

Amnesty International has reported that two people were wounded in landmine explosions last Sunday. Lieutenant Colonel SM Ariful Islam, the commanding officer of the Bangladesh border guard in Teknaf, said on Friday that he knew of at least three Rohingya injured by landmines. Both Amnesty researchers and Bangladesh officials believe that new explosives have been planted along a narrow stretch of the north-western border which is a crossing point for the fleeing Rohingya. Amnesty have reported that a Rohingya man has found and dug up at least 6 other landmines.

Bangladesh has lodged a protest after receiving this information, citing concern over the use of the mines so close to the border and stating that Myanmar is violating international norms. Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director who is in the area, said in a statement on Sunday that “all indications point to the Myanmar security forces deliberately targeting locations that Rohingya refugees use as crossing points.” She has described the use of landmines here as callous, indiscriminate and putting ordinary people’s lives at risk.

Myanmar denies the use of landmines. A military source told Reuters that mines had been placed along the border in the 1990s and the army had since tried to remove them. They added that none had been planted in recent days and claim any new landmines must have been planted by terrorists.

Western states have been providing weapons and training to the Burmese military forces. The USA, Australia, and some EU states have been providing training, while Russia and Israel are among countries providing weapons. This is highly unacceptable considering the atrocities occurring in Myanmar, now coupled with the alleged use of landmines. Western foreign policy needs to be re-assessed to focus on the prevention of violence and the peaceful resolution of conflicts before they reach the point where a foreign intervention is required to save lives. This includes ceasing the provision of weapons and military training to states committing violence which has been described as genocide.

Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto leader of Myanmar, has been condemned on the international stage, mainly by NGOs and the UN, over inaction to cease the violence of the Burmese military against the Rohingya people. Domestically, however, she continues to receive a lot of support. Rohingya are extremely unpopular inside Myanmar and there have been reports of attacks on Muslims elsewhere in Myanmar in response to the crisis. Aung San Suu Kyi does not control the military and they do not trust her. Refusing to condemn the violence carried out by the military against the Rohingya people provides the military generals with political cover. Aung San Suu Kyi needs to take control of the situation but must also bear in mind the consequences of military backlash which would not result in the peaceful resolution of the crisis, but instead is likely to make it worse.

Rohingya people are defined as a stateless group of whom an estimated 1.3 million live in the state of Rakhine, western Myanmar. The majority are Muslim, while Myanmar is majority Buddhist. In 2013, the UN described them as the most persecuted persons in the world and label Myanmar’s persecution of the group as ethnic cleansing. The Rohingya community maintain they are long-standing residents of western Myanmar. The Myanmar government describes them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and therefore denies them citizenship. Military crackdowns have occurred consistently in the region since 2012, resulting in Rohingya people fleeing into Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera reported in June 2016 that the UN had found the Burmese military to have been conducting “summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment and forced labour” against the Rohingya people.

The Mine Ban Treaty 1997, which outlaws the use of landmines, is one of the most widely accepted treaties. The international community needs to aid Myanmar in preventing further atrocities occurring in the region, particularity the use of landmines along the border rather than providing the military with training and weapons while turning a blind eye to what they do with the resources. However, it is also imperative to acknowledge the agency of the people involved in this violence and listen to their voices when finding a resolution to the conflict to avoid paternalism and appearing imperialistic.

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