Human misery is rarely straightforward, and more often than not, is compounded by other factors. And so it is for the displaced Rohingya Muslim people fleeing for their lives following attacks on their villages, now being assailed also by torrential monsoon rain.

Now evidence of landmine use has been added to the complex mix of misery. Amnesty International has confirmed that Myanmar’s security forces planted banned antipersonnel landmines along a narrow stretch of the north-western border of Rakhine State with Bangladesh. 

Although this present use is new, Human Rights groups claim that Burma’s military and its insurgent groups have also used land mines in their armed conflict for decades and continue to do so. Reuters reports that mines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing, and that the military had since tried to remove them. 

The Washington Post calls the attacks on Rohingya people: ‘A textbook example of ethnic cleansing’, with the Rohingya targeted for their ethnicity and religion. Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director, says: “In legal terms, these are crimes against humanity that include murder and deportation or forcible transfer of population.  The Myanmar Army is one of only a handful of state forces worldwide, along with North Korea and Syria, to still openly use antipersonnel landmines. Authorities must immediately end this abhorrent practice against people who are already fleeing persecution.” She asserted: “The Myanmar authorities should stop issuing blanket denials. All the evidence suggests that its own security forces are planting landmines that are not only unlawful, but that are already maiming ordinary people.”

The Bangladeshi Foreign Secretry Shahidul Haque confirmed that Dhaka had launched a formal complaint with Myanmar for planting landmines along the shared border. 

The Rohingya people are an ethnic minority of Muslim faith, classified by Myanmar as stateless, illegal immigrants, although many of their families have lived in Rakhine state for generations, some for hundreds of years.  Since late August over 420,000 Rohingya (nearly half their entire people) have fled genocide and ethnic cleansing in Burma. Many of the rest are trapped between marauding bands of brutal militia and the water, desperate to cross the river that marks the border. Dozens have already drowned in the Naf River. Now Nepal has also increased border surveillance to prevent more Rohingya from entering its country.

This is a man-made tragedy, rooted in politics and religion. French President Emmanuel Macron calls it genocide. While the EU maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar, the conflict is being enabled by governments around the world who allow arms manufacturers and traders to sell and profit from ethnic cleansing, with some even providing military training. British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that it will stop training Burma’s armed forces until Aung San Suu Kyi’s government halts the campaign of violence against the Muslim minority.

Amnesty has corroborated reports and testimonies on the attacks, and video and satellite evidence shows villages are still being burned. Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay has admitted that nearly 500 villages had been targeted by the Burmese army in “clearance operations” in response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attack of 25 August. Nearly 40% of the villages are now completely empty and an additional 10% partially abandoned. And now the Myanmar government has declared ownership of the very land people have fled, making it even more clear that this is ethnic cleansing.

The United Nations is asking for more than 200 million dollars to provide camps and meet the need for food, shelter and sanitation.

To underline the complexity of this conflict, there have been new reports by the Myanmar army of the discovery of a mass grave of 28 Hindus, including women and children, in the north of Rakhine Province. ARSA extremist Bengali terrorists have been blamed.

– Helen Stanger, SafeGround Public Officer