[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Myanmar's forgotten minefields

Jane's Intelligence Review
October 1, 2000

Myanmar's forgotten minefields

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan compiled the Myanmar chapter of the
Landmine  Monitor Report 2000. Andrew Selth is the author of
'Transforming theTatmadaw: The Burmese Armed Forces Since 1988'.

On the subject of landmines, media attention is rarely focused on
Myanmar. Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan and Andrew Selth examine the
country's manufacture and indiscriminate use of mines and IEDs.

THERE ARE an estimated 120 million-plus uncleared anti-personnel
(AP) landmines around the world, scattered through more than 60
countries. In all the literature produced on this subject to date
and in discussions of the problem in international forums, mention
is rarely made of Myanmar (formerly Burma). This is despite the fact
that anti-personnel landmines have been, and are still being,
manufactured and laid in large numbers in that country. Indeed, the
number of landmine casualties now surpasses Myanmar's mine-affected
neighbour, Cambodia, which has been the subject of much greater
world attention.

Landmine use in Myanmar

The use of landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has
been a feature of armed conflict in Myanmar since it regained its
independence from the UK in 1948. Before the 1960s, fighting between
the Myanmar armed forces (Tatmadaw) and the country's many
ideological, ethnic and religious insurgent groups was bitter. There
has also been a long-running war between the Myanmar armed forces
and a number of narcotics-funded private armies. All sides, however,
found it difficult to obtain regular or plentiful supplies of modern
munitions. This prevented the extensive use of commercially produced
landmines and forced the protagonists to rely more on IEDs. These
still resulted in a large number of casualties, but they tended to
be less effective and had more limited operational lives.

After the 1960s, landmines became easier to obtain, and their rate
of usage increased. The Tatmadaw was able to obtain supplies of AP
and (probably) anti-vehicle (AV) mines from its own arms factories,
established with German assistance during the 1960s and 1970s. After
the military coup, led by General Ne Win in 1962, Myanmar still
received modest shipments of munitions from friendly countries like
the USA. These almost certainly included supplies of landmines.

Around the same time, China increased its supply of arms (including
landmines) to the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) guerrillas on
Myanmar's northeastern border. Other insurgent groups were able to
purchase landmines on the black market in Thailand, and reportedly
from members of the Thai armed forces and police. The insurgents
financed these deals by selling precious stones, jade and narcotics,
or by taxing cross-border trade.

Myanmar's two paramount intelligence agencies, the Office of
Strategic Studies (OSS) and the Directorate of Defence Services
Intelligence (DDSI), claim that landmines are no longer being used
by the Myanmar Army as there is no need for them.

The Myanmar government's website seeks to portray the civil war as a
thing of the past, stressing that many of the armed insurgencies
have collapsed or that they have entered into a cease-fire agreement
with the central government. While the CPB did collapse in 1989, and
notorious drug lord Khun Sa and his Mong Tai Army (MTA) surrendered
in 1996, other armed groups have yet to secure more than a verbally
agreed and tenuous cease-fire. Like the Mon National Army, they keep
their arsenals and maintain their right to continue armed struggle
if negotiations do not work out.

Other groups like the Karen National Union and its armed wing, the
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which have never entered into
a cease-fire agreement with Rangoon, are portrayed by the government
as weak and marginal with little capacity for military operations.

Despite these official denials, the manufacture and use of anti-
personnel landmines in Myanmar has grown significantly in recent
years. The Tatmadaw appears to be placing increasing reliance on
landmines to defeat insurgents, perhaps capitalising on the greater
availability of modern AP mines from a new factory built in central
Myanmar with Chinese assistance about two years ago.

Mines are being used extensively against the KNLA in its areas of
operation in both Kayah State and the Taninthayi Division, against
the Shan State Army (SSA) within Shan State, and against the Karenni
Army in Kayan State.

The Na sa ka, a special division of the Tatmadaw engaged in
operations along Myanmar's border with Bangladesh, maintains an
extensive minefield virtually the entire length of the land
frontier. This minefield has claimed numerous civilian and military
casualties. Further north, along Myanmar's border with the
northeastern states of India, the Tatmadaw has also laid mines as
part of its counter-insurgency operations against the Chin National

The insurgent groups are also using landmines and IEDs more than
before. In particular, the KNLA is relying heavily on them in its
operations against the Tatmadaw, prompted in part by the fall of the
Karens' fixed bases at Manerplaw and Kawmura in 1995 and the KNLA's
subsequent reversion to mobile guerrilla tactics. Landmines also
make up for their inferiority in numbers and arms, especially since
the split in the KNLA (which produced the pro-Rangoon Democratic
Karen Buddhist Army in 1994) and the introduction by the junta of a
massive military expansion and modernisation programme.

Methods and results

Landmines and IEDs have been used by all military forces in Myanmar,
for both offensive and defensive purposes. As a general rule, the
scarcity of resources has not permitted the mining of large tracts
of land, but mines have been laid outside the perimeter of both
permanent and temporary camps to warn of approaching enemies and to
defend against attack. They have been widely used along lines of
communication, such as railways, roads and pathways, to hinder the
movement of troops and supplies.

Landmines have been used to deny territory to the other side and to
prevent the use of routes across the international border. Mines
have also been laid to encourage local villagers either to leave
particular areas, or to stay away from villages that have already
been cleared or destroyed. The latter policy seems to be part of a
deliberate and widespread campaign by the Myanmar Army to resettle
local populations in an effort to deny insurgent groups food, funds,
recruits and intelligence.

As a result of all these developments Myanmar has suffered a large
number of casualties from landmines over the years. Reliable
statistics are difficult to obtain but, according to the US State
Department, in the early 1990s casualties from landmines were
thought to account for about 15% of all military losses in Myanmar.

Combatants have not been the only ones killed or maimed. So have
many local villagers, particularly in the border areas where the
fighting has lasted longer and usually been the most vicious. In
1993 it was estimated that each year in Myanmar over 1,500 people
were fitted with artificial limbs as a result of landmine
explosions. Many more never received any attention. This number has
declined since the negotiation of cease-fires among most insurgent
groups, but casualties from landmines remain high. According to an
official based in Rangoon, most landmine victims now come from Karen

Greatly exacerbating this problem has been the poor management of
the minefields laid. Both the Myanmar Army and various insurgent
groups have failed to keep accurate or comprehensive records of
where mines have been placed. Local villagers are often not informed
of their whereabouts for security reasons. During the fall of the
KNLA's base at Manerplaw, for example, the militant All Burma
Students Democratic Front revealed that all casualties resulted from
their own defensive minefield, not enemy fire. Even government
soldiers often do not know where their mines have been laid.

Proper maps are rarely produced and often, when a military unit
leaves an area, precise details about the local minefields are not
passed on. Even when this does occur, the smaller plastic mines now
used by the Myanmar Army can be washed away during heavy rainfall to
new, unknown locations.

One saving grace in the past was that the landmines used were made
of metal and were liable to rust, rendering them inoperable after
one or two rainy seasons. The batteries required for detonation by
some insurgent mines rarely lasted more than six months. Also, the
wooden stakes used to set up some kinds of AP fragmentation mines
had a relatively short life in areas where the climate was hot and
wet. According to one government source, some mines used by the
Myanmar Army during the 1960s and 1970s became unserviceable because
the explosive charge tended to be eaten by ants.

The more modern mines now being used by the Rangoon regime, however,
have much longer lives. They are made from more durable materials,
do not rely on batteries and remain serviceable much longer after
being laid. Also, it appears that, where possible, stake AP mines
are being placed on metal spikes so they remain effective for longer
periods. Plastic lightweight mines are also being used by insurgent
groups - mainly Chinese Type 72 AP blast mines and US-made M-14
mines (or copies of the M-14 from Vietnam and Singapore).

Mines used in Myanmar

A wide range of landmines appear to have been used in Myanmar over
the years. Details are hard to obtain, but it would appear that
before 1988 the Myanmar Army had access to common Eastern bloc AP
mines such as the POMZ-2 and POMZ-2M stake-mounted AP fragmentation
mines. It is highly likely that Myanmar also imported (or was given
as part of military aid packages) a range of other AP and AV land
mines. These would have probably come from countries like the UK,
USA, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, all of which provided arms to
Myanmar at one time or another. For example, it is believed that the
Myanmar Army was familiar with US-manufactured M-18 Claymore mines,
M-16 bounding fragmentation mines, M-14 AP blast mines and M-7 AV
mines. It is also believed that Yugoslavia provided AV mines to
Myanmar in the 1950s and possibly the 1960s.

During this period the insurgents bought US, Soviet and Chinese
mines on the black market or, as in the case of the CPB, were
directly supplied by China. The latter shipments appear to have
included large quantities of Type 58 AP blast mines. This is a
direct copy of the Russian PMN mine. The Chinese probably also
supplied the CPB with their own versions of the POMZ-2 and POMZ-2M
stake mines, known as the Type 58 and Type 59 respectively. There
has been at least one report of a Chinese Type 59 'shoebox' AP mine
(a copy of the Russian PMD-6 mine) also being used.

Since the Myanmar armed forces took back direct control of the
country in 1988, the Rangoon regime (known initially as the State
Law and Order Restoration Council, and after 1997 as the State Peace
and Development Council) has faced an arms embargo at the hands of
its traditional suppliers. As a consequence, it has been forced to
rely on a much wider range of sources for its arms and military

Most mines have come from China, but Singapore, Pakistan, Israel,
Russia, Poland, Yugoslavia, the Democratic People's Republic of
Korea (DPRK) and Portugal are also known to have sold arms or
ammunition to Myanmar's military regime over the past 12 years.
China and Singapore are the most likely of these countries to have
included landmines in their arms shipments to Myanmar.

There is evidence that since 1989, when the BCP collapsed and
bilateral relations with China rapidly improved, Beijing has
supplied Myanmar with AP landmines. In addition to those types noted
above, one source in Rangoon has suggested that these shipments have
included the Type 69 Chinese AP bounding fragmentation mine, similar
to the US-made M-16, popularly known as the 'Bouncing Betty'. Both
US and Chinese mines of this type have been used in recent
operations by the Tatmadaw in the Taninthayi Division. The Chinese
Type 72 AP blast mine has also been used against insurgents in
recent years, as well as an (as yet unidentified) Italian-designed
AP blast mine. Mines manufactured by Singapore and Israel are also
reported to have been used in Myanmar, but this has not yet been

The military regime in Rangoon, however, has never been comfortable
relying on foreign countries for its military supplies. Since the
mid-1950s it has built up a network of its own defence industries,
capable of producing a range of arms and ammunition, including
landmines. There is evidence that this capability has recently been

Mine manufacture

For some years before 1988 Myanmar had been able to produce its own
landmines at a German-built factory in the regime's heavily guarded
defence industrial complex on the western side of the Taninthayi
(Irrawaddy) River, near Pyay. Most appear to have been copies of
proven Eastern bloc stake and pressure AP mines, known locally as
lu-that (AP) mines, but some AV mines were probably also produced.

About two years ago, however, a secret agreement was reportedly
signed with China for the construction of a completely new factory
near Meikhtila in central Myanmar, solely to produce landmines.
Although sources disagree on the progress made on the factory since
then, it seems that serial production of some mine types has begun.

 From the limited information available, this factory is believed to
produce at least five types of mines, designated MM-1 through to MM-
5. The MM-1 is essentially the Chinese Type 59 AP stake-mounted
mine, with slight modifications to the detonator and weather cap.
The MM-2 design closely follows that of China's Type 58 AP blast
mine. Two variants of the MM-2 have been confirmed. The
characteristics of the MM-3, MM-4 and MM-5 landmines are still
unknown, although it is possible that one is an AV mine.

Myanmar produces a shi-twe directional mine, possibly a copy of the
M-18 Claymore, which may have been given a 'MM' designation.
Following the practice adopted by Myanmar's Defence Industries in
the past, these designations probably mean Myanmar Mine 1, Myanmar
Mine 2 and so on.

Most informed Myanmar watchers believe that China is still providing
technical assistance and spare parts for the Meikhtila factory, as
well as some of the key components used in the manufacture of these
mines. Singapore (which manufactures its own range of plastic-bodied
AP and AV mines, including some under licence) may have assisted in
the establishment and operation of this plant. Singapore is secretly
assisting Myanmar in other areas of arms manufacture, for example
the production of a new family of infantry weapons. Claims that it
is helping to produce landmines in Myanmar cannot be proved.

Most insurgent groups maintained workshops in which to repair and
manufacture weapons, including landmines. After the collapse of the
BCP in 1989, Khun Sa probably had the greatest capacity of all
Myanmar's insurgent groups and narcotics-based armies to manufacture
and lay landmines. When he surrendered in 1996 the Myanmar Army took
possession of, and reportedly destroyed, over 2,000 landmines that
had been stored at his Ho Mong base camp. Most appear to have been
AP mines, but Khun Sa also had a stock of large AV mines that he
claimed was to protect his camp from "external aggression".

It is not known what specific kinds of mines were being manufactured
or held in the MTA's inventory, but they are most likely to have
been copies of the simpler, locally produced AP mines, like the

Other insurgent groups have not had the funds, expertise or
facilities to make landmines of this kind, or on this scale. Most
have tended to rely on booby-traps and other IEDs. Explosives from
quarries in Myanmar or neighbouring states have been obtained and
placed in any available container - usually plastic pipes or bamboo
links. Sometimes glass bottles have been used as glass readily lends
itself to fragmentation. Metal waste and nails have been added as
shrapnel to make the mine even more destructive.

Electric detonators were obtained from the same quarries. Trip
plates were made of wood and wire, and were linked to a common dry
cell battery. These improvised mines are quite effective but usually
have a limited life, often no more than six months, as the batteries
tend to run out after that time.

Insurgent groups like the Karen reportedly feel that their limited
funds are better used to buy guns and ammunition, rather than
components for landmines. Because of the current shortage of
resources, they try to dig up and take their land mines with them
when they move.

Such is the demand for landmines in Myanmar that all stocks produced
have been used in-country. There have been no reports of the Rangoon
regime or insurgent group exporting landmines to another country or

Laying, detection and clearing

The Myanmar armed forces rely mainly on traditional methods to lay
mines - by hand. The army's Engineering Corps reportedly has some
towed mine-laying vehicles when large areas are to be mined, but the
difficult terrain in the insurgent areas of operation would restrict
their effectiveness.

Over the years, Myanmar Army engineers have used a variety of means
to detect and clear mines. Manual methods, mainly using probes, have
been most common. Since the early 1970s, however, a greater reliance
has been placed on the use of mechanical mine detectors. In the
past, these have included French DHPM-1A mine detection sets,
White's Electronics 6000 Di-PRO SL detectors from the UK and UK-made
NMD-9 equipment. There have also been reports that Myanmar
manufactures its own mine detector, known as the Tha-ma 93. This
detector, which consists of a circular search head, carrying handle,
battery-powered control box and a set of attached headphones, seems
to be a copy, or maybe a modification, of an imported device.

The Myanmar Army has Bangalore torpedoes, which can be used to clear
pathways through minefields, and has also used mine detecting and
detonating vehicles. These range from a jeep pushing a weighted
trailer to set off the mines in its path, and a tank-mounted mine
roller designed to do the same thing, to a specially designed mine
clearance plough. The latter seems simply to be a small tank with a
bulldozer blade on the front of the vehicle. It is not known how
many of these vehicles are in the Myanmar Army's order of battle,
how or from where they were acquired. It is possible that some of
these vehicles have been built by the Myanmar Army itself, with
designs based on well-known models for sale on the international
market. The nature of the terrain around Myanmar's borders, however,
would restrict the use of such machines.

The Tatmadaw has seriously considered the use of sniffer dogs to
detect mines, but how often this method has been used, and with what
degree of success, is unknown.

There have also been numerous confirmed reports of the Myanmar Army
using local villagers and forced labourers as human minesweepers.
These people (including women and children) have been forced to walk
ahead of military units, detonating any landmines or booby traps
that lie in their path.

Indiscriminate use

At present there is no sign that the Rangoon regime intends to
reduce its manufacture or use of landmines in Myanmar. Indeed, the
opposite is true, with the increased use of AP mines against
insurgents by the armed forces being fuelled by a new munitions
factory and imports from friendly countries like China. In these
circumstances, it is not surprising that the military government has
consistently refused to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, stating to
the UN that "a sweeping ban on landmines is unnecessary and

The problem is the indiscriminate use of mines, as well as the
transfer of them. The opposition National League for Democracy, by
contrast, has publicly stated that it would be prepared to support
Myanmar's accession to the Ottawa Convention. At present, however,
its activities (and those of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi) have been
severely curtailed by the regime and it has no scope to implement
such a policy.

The continuing manufacture and indiscriminate use of AP mines by the
Myanmar armed forces seems set to continue. The insurgents, for
their part, will also use mines and explosive booby traps in their
struggle against the central government, made from whatever
resources they can obtain. The inevitable result will be further
casualties, as combatants and civilians alike are killed and maimed
by these weapons in a part of the world that has not known peace for
over 60 years.

GRAPHIC: Photograph 1, AP landmines manufactured by Myanmar's Defence Products
Industries. On the extreme left is a MM 1 (PRC Type 59 copy) and in the 
centre is a MM 2 (PRC
Type 58 copy). The MM 2 is flanked by the LTM 76 stake/fragmentation mine. 
FTUB/LM) Map 1, Myanmar (Source: Jane's); Photograph 2, Field surgery is 
carried out on a mine
victim in Kayah State by the Backpack Health Worker Team, an ethnic-based 
emergency medical
non-governmental organisation based on the border of Myanmar and Thailand.