Myanmar rebel group signs up to landmine ban (Myanmar)
GENEVA, Aug 10, 2006 (AFP) - An anti-landmines campaign group said Thursday that it hoped two of Myanmar's largest armed opposition movements would give up using the weapons, after a smaller rebel group committed itself to an international ban.
Geneva Call, which is trying to get armed rebel or resistance groups to follow the conditions of the 1997 Ottawa Convention outlawing anti-personnel landmines, announced that the Chin National Front had joined its parallel pledge on July 31.
"Geneva Call is hoping to bring other Burmese opposition groups on board the mine ban," said Katherine Kramer, of Geneva Call.
"We have already started discussions with other groups, including the Karen and Karenni, though it is still at the early stage," she added.
Myanmar's military regime is not among the 154 governments which have signed up to the international treaty.
Exact casualty figures in Myanmar are unknown but campaigners estimate that there are 1,500 victims of landmine explosions every year, many of them civilians who have been displaced by the myriad internal conflicts.
The cheaply assembled weapons are used extensively by government and opposition forces, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
They are mainly found around border areas where the bulk of the ethnic minorities in Myanmar live, and around gem mines.
Leaders of the Chin front and its military wing said in Geneva that about 2,000 to 3,000 had been laid in the eponymous western state, next to the border with India, during their 18-year-old struggle for ethnic rights.
The Front says it is fighting for self-determination for the Chin people in a federal Burmese state.
"We try to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, that policy was implemented in 1995," explained Suikhar, a spokesman for the group.
Suikhar and Chin front chairman Thomas Thangnou explained that they did not buy their landmines but made them themselves.
"Then we realised the impact of anti personnel landmines. Those were the two reasons that convinced us to join this commitment," he added.
"In general 40 percent of the victims are civilians."
Survivors in the western region have few chances of getting their wounds attended to unless they are carried across the border or taken to other states, according to the Chin.
"There is no humanitarian activity in Chin state, particularly in health care," explained Suikhar.
Two other groups in Myanmar have already joined the commitment against anti-personnel landmines, but 11 more are thought to be using them.
More than 30 armed groups in Myanmar, Burundi, India, Iraq, the Philippines, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey and Western Sahara have signed up to Geneva Call's Deed of Commitment for "non-state actors".
The deed is underwritten by the regional government of Geneva in Switzerland, lending it some of the authority of a treaty between states.
"The work is a slow process," said Kramer, explaining that her agency was trying to ensure that the groups could live up to their pledge. Talks with the Chin front had been underway since 2002.
The Chin rebels said they could turn to alternative weaponry in their struggle, including remote-controlled bombs.
Von: 10.08.2006, Agence France Presse