03/01/2024, 19.09
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Ottawa Treaty at 25: Asia still making and using anti-personnel mines

The worst case is Myanmar, where both the regular army and armed resistance make extensive use of landmines. Almost half of the countries that are not signatories to the UN treaty are in Asia or the Middle East. In Southeast Asia region, Cambodia has become a leader in demining.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Twenty-five years since the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel mines[*] came into force, which Pope Francis mentioned in this week's general audience, the production and use of landmines continue in Asia, particularly in Myanmar, scene of a civil war that broke out in 2021 pitting the country’s military against armed resistance groups.

According to a UNICEF report covering the period from January to September 2023, at least 858 civilians were injured or killed as a result of unexploded munitions, an increase of 220 per cent compared to 390 reported by the United Nations in 2022. Other studies put the death toll that year at 384, with 124 wounded.

According to the UN children's agency, 22 per cent of the victims are children, compared to 34 per cent in 2022; a trend that is likely to continue in 2024. In January of this year, at least 22 people were injured or killed according to local reports.

In Myanmar, most incidents took place in the Sagaing region, a major scene of fighting. A report by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor released in December 2023 suggests that more than half of Myanmar's townships are at risk of contamination from explosive remnants of war.

In fact, both Myanmar’s army and ethnic resistance groups use anti-personnel mines at strategic targets (telecom towers, mines, gas pipelines, etc.) to protect them.

Before civil war broke out, unexploded mines were mostly found in border areas, where armed ethnic groups are fighting for greater autonomy from the central government. However, the military have also placed them near churches as well as farmland to prevent farmers from coming back.

Like several other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Myanmar is not a signatory to the Ottawa Treaty.

Along with the Middle East and North Africa region, the Asia-Pacific has the largest number of countries not to sign the agreement, which was agreed upon in 1997. In total, about 14 of the 33 non-signatory countries are in Asia.

The treaty bans the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires signatories to clean up contaminated areas, assist victims, and destroy their stockpiles.

According to the latest information, almost all of the countries that still reserve the right to produce anti-personnel mines are in Asia: Armenia, China, India, Iran, Myanmar, North and South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, and Vietnam. One outlier is Cuba.

India, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Russia are thought to be actively engaged in manufacturing anti-personnel mines; South Korea did as well until 2021.

According to estimates, less than 50 million landmines are currently stored in 30 of the 33 countries that are not signatories to the Treaty, all in Asia.

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia is leading its neighbours in demining. In 2022, it cleared more than 88 square kilometres of land; in November 2023, it hosted the 21st meeting of the signatory states of the Ottawa Treaty.

Civilians, especially children, are still largely paying for the extensive use of anti-personnel mines, with 85 per cent of all casualties. In 2022, 4,710 people were killed or injured by anti-personnel mines.

[*] Formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction.

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