Friday, July 17, 2009

Victims of Landmines Suffer Long After Injuries

The Irrawaddy News

“I don’t want to live any longer since I lost my leg in a landmine injury,” said 35-year-old Nai Aree, a Mon ethnic.

Nai Aree, a former soldier in the New Mon State Party (NMSP), left the organization after the party agreed to a ceasefire with the Burmese military government in 1995. He joined the NMSP when he was 13 years old.

KNLA soldier Maw Klu stepped on a landmine years ago. (Photo: Roger Arnold)

Now working in Phuket, he earns 150 baht (US $5) a day at fish processing factory.

“I need to save money while I am young and able to work because I am disabled,” said Nai Aree.

Kyaw Thein, 39, a landmine victim who lost his left leg, said, “Whenever I think about my life before I was injured, I feel angry. I can’t go out easily now with friends. Whenever they go out, I watch them, and I feel very sad.”

Now working in Bangkok, Kyaw Thein earns 270 baht ($9) a day at a building construction site.

Kyaw Thein and Nai Aree are among hundreds of landmine victims in Burma whose lives are forever limited now because of the unique nature of landmine injuries.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) estimates about 1,500 Burmese people are injured or killed by landmines yearly.

The ICBL ranks Burma second only to Afghanistan in land mine causalities in Asia, where most landmine victims don’t receive adequate rehabilitation treatment or follow-up assistance.

The ICBL notes that both the Burmese regime and ethnic armed groups use landmines in opposing each other.

Karenni, Arakan, Shan, Tenasserrim and Pegu divisions are areas where there is heavy use of landmines in clashes between ethnic armed groups and Burmese troops.

Burma had at least 438 landmine casualties in 2007, up from 246 in 2006. Many more casualties went unreported, said the ICBL.

Despite criticism from international rights groups, both the Burmese government and ethnic rebels still use landmines and the use is increasing, according to the ICBL.

Burma has not signed the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty, which has been signed by 156 nations. Among nations that have not signed the treaty are the United States, China, Russia, India, Israel, Singapore, South and North Korea.

The landmines used by the Burmese army are from Russia, China, and India. Some landmines are also reportedly bought from Singapore, said Burmese military sources.

A landmine campaigner, Suthikiet Sopanik who is secretary of the Thailand Campaign to Ban landmines, said victims of landmines suffer a unique injury whenever they lose a limb or sight, because it affects them for the rest of their life.

Landmines also have a devastating effect on civilians and animal life as well.

“During a war, the enemy will kill each by using everything. But, after the battle, the people who suffer most are the civilians and innocent children. They are also landmine victims,” said Sopanik, who urged the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups to find a diplomatic way to solve political conflicts.

“This is the time for Myanmar [Burma ] to get together and use wisdom to solve disagreements,” he said.

The former Mon soldier, Nai Aree, agreed: “I feel my party doesn’t need soldiers any more. They only need educated people after the ceasefire.”

Armed ethnic rebels also are responsible for using landmines. Among them, the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), used more landmines than any other ethnic armed groups in 2005-2006, according to a Landmine Monitor report released by the ICBL in 2008.

A 23-year-old landmine victim, Saw Naing Naing, a KNLA soldier, said, “Injury from a landmine is different from gunfire. We may not die from a landmine injury. But, we become disable people. We die mentally.”

Saw Naing Naing lost his right hand and right eye in a landmine injury in June during a battle between KNLA Brigade 7 and the Burmese army and its ceasefire militia, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

“The use of landmines is bad,” he said. “I hate landmines because they ruined my life.”

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