Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jerry White of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations led a delegation October 21-November 2, 2012, to investigate the potential for integrated mine action as part of the U.S. Government’s peace-building strategy in Burma.
The U.S. Government is the global leader in funding for humanitarian mine action and is positioned to play a leadership role in Burma—an issue that can help solidify ceasefires and advance peace-building efforts. On Thursday, November 8, Ambassador Derek Mitchell delivered a keynote speech in Naypyidaw to key international figures in mine action and stressed the importance of an integrated approach across partners that balances government attention with a commitment to elevate the voices of ethnic minority groups.
In 2013, the USG approach is tailored to include the full range of activities required to advance comprehensive reform and assistance—mine-risk education, survivor assistance, and surveys and demining. For lasting impact, action must include the participation of affected communities as well as the authority of the central government and will provide a timely platform for relationship building at the community level.
United States leadership will be necessary to complement the Europeans’ effort to support mine action through the Burmese Government. The European Union recently awarded $3 million to Norwegian People’s Aid to establish the Myanmar Peace Center and a Mine Action Center under the auspices of the office of President Thein Sein. To ensure this initiative strengthens national unity, this approach must be balanced with active solicitation of the views of ethnic minority groups, possibly through state-level liaison offices.
At Amb. Mitchell’s urging, Jerry White led the first high-level USG delegation to Kayah State in over 20 years to meet government officials, ethnic Karenni armed groups, and civil society. Three Karenni armed groups came together to meet with the delegation and presented a joint statement on Karenni grievances. The Kayah State government and the KNPP cited landmine awareness, survey training, and mapping as ripe for progress. Like other ethnic group leadership, they urged caution over demining in the absence of genuine political dialogue but are receptive to mine-risk education and victim assistance to build trust. One KNPP Central Committee member said, “The desire is for all groups to come together and talk to figure this out; we see landmine action as a real indicator that the ceasefire can work for peace.”
It is still critical to engage ethnic leadership from the Thai side of the border, who have close connections to ethnic populations inside Burma. The USG has long supported cross-border community-based organizations along the Thai-Burma border, whereas most of the donor community shifted funding inside Burma. The USG can leverage these networks to include the ethnic minority voices in mine action, reinforce national unity, and strengthen the peace process.