The landmine clearance program in Pegu Region has been delayed due to the leadership reshuffle within the Karen National Union (KNU), said Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) Mine Action Programme Manager Aksel Steen-Nilsen.
Steen-Nilsen said that talks with the KNU are ongoing but that no date has been fixed for beginning the project.
The clearing of lethal landmines is one of the first steps involved in the Norwegian Peace Support Initiative, which aims to ultimately repatriate hundreds of thousands of displaced war refugees in eastern Burma.
On September 26, Naypyitaw signed an agreement with the NPA to clear landmines in the border regions, at which time it was noted that the KNU’s involvement was imperative to the success of the project.
“The Karen National Union (KNU) are one of the most important ethnic groups which have now signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. In the agreement of April 2012 both the government and the KNU declared that mine clearance will be a part of the peace process,” said the NPA.
The KNU says it plans to resettle Karen war refugees in Kyaukkyi, a township under KNU control located in Nyaunglebin District of Pegu Region, officially known as Bago Region.
However, following many years of conflict, Nyaunglebin is peppered with unexploded ordnance, and the KNU and NPA have agreed to work together to clear the landmines in the area.
“Before the refugees and IDPs are resettled in the area, their safety must be assured,” said KNU General-Secretary Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win.
He said that only after carrying out surveys, drawing maps and having consultations will they be able to estimate the number of landmines in the region.
Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win explained that the Nyaunglebin residents were aware of the landmines planted in the area, and were afraid to return to live there and work on their farms.
“Yes, there are landmines,” he continued. “Even if there was only one landmine in the area, nobody would dare to go back.”
NPA’s Steen-Nilsen said that the process of landmine removal involves danger, so it is important to attain precise information. He said that they need to interview residents and landmine victims, and must survey the area using landmine detection equipment.
Speaking about his experience in landmine removal in Cambodia, Steen-Nilsen said that after the war, many returning villagers were injured or killed by landmines.
Steen-Nilsen was previously a major in the Norwegian army, and after his retirement began working with anti-landmine programmes.
The KNU’s Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win said that in meetings between the Karen rebels and the Burmese government’s peace committee, both sides agreed in principle that they will not plant any more mines, and will both take part in landmine clearance activities.
According to the 2012 Landmine Monitor report released in November 2012, Burma has the third highest number of known casualties due to antipersonnel landmines in the world over the past six years. Moreover, the Burmese government has not yet signed the international landmine ban treaty.
*This article was updated on January 31.
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