Burmese army undermined telecommunications tower sites
Since September, the Burmese military has planted landmines on telecommunications towers owned or leased by mobile operators, including Telenor, Myanmar Now has learned.
Several striking engineers from Mytel, a telecommunications provider jointly owned by the Burmese military, told Myanmar Now that the junta had laid “security mines” at many of the company’s tower sites in recent months.
Engineers, who left their posts after the February 1 coup, said the move followed attacks by the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF), which used bombs and explosive devices from fortune to target Mytel towers due to the company’s military ties.
Myanmar Now has contacted several telecommunications providers – MPT, Ooredoo and Telenor – to seek comment on allegations that the Myanmar military has also planted landmines around their towers, or towers owned by third-party companies and their having been rented. Only Telenor has confirmed the presence of mines.
A Telenor spokesperson said the practice appeared to be happening “indiscriminately among mobile and tower operators”.
“… several sites have been equipped with anti-personnel mines,” the individual told Myanmar Now in an email.
“Telenor Myanmar is gravely concerned about these practices, as they pose a serious personal safety challenge for operations and maintenance personnel, and for the communities living around the tower sites,” the spokesperson explained.
Telenor has implemented a tower security program, which involves sending SMS notifications to Telenor subscribers who live near dangerous towers, warning them to stay away from telecommunications infrastructure. The company has also placed physical warning signs at mined sites owned by Telenor and has ceased serving those sites.
However, most of the sites operated are owned by tour companies which rent them out to Telenor and other operators. In such cases, according to the Telenor spokesperson, it is the tower companies that are required to provide security.
“We are in close dialogue with tower partners on monitoring and reporting sites suspected of being mined, and reiterate the obligation to physically secure and provide signage and information at all sites,” said the spokesperson.
We are in close dialogue with tower partners on monitoring and reporting suspected mine sites, and reiterate the obligation to physically secure and provide signage and information at all sites – Telenor Myanmar
Japanese companies KDDI and Sumitomo Corporation, which jointly operate state-owned mobile operator MPT, both responded that they had not heard of any landmines being placed on the MPT towers.
“We will continue our efforts to maintain the social infrastructure by giving top priority to the safety of all concerned,” said Sachiko Oda of KDDI.
However, Myanmar Now has learned that the MPT and Ooredoo towers have also been mined.
Ooredoo, a Burmese telecommunications provider majority-owned by the Qatari government, was among the companies that did not respond to a request for comment. A Nokia spokesperson confirmed that the company was providing radio equipment installed on the Ooredoo towers and referred to Ooredoo for further questions.
Tower companies Irrawaddy Green Towers, Apollo, OCK and edotco also did not respond to requests for comment on the mining of the tower sites.
At the time of publication, Myanmar Now could not find any published warnings or details of any mined sites on the websites of mobile operators or tour companies.
Telenor has not responded to requests for disclosure of the list of mined tower sites it owns or leases.
According to the former United Nations independent international fact-finding mission of Myanmar expert Chris Sidoti, Telenor and other telecommunications companies must do more.
“They should demand from the military a list of towers that have been mined and they should publish this list largely as a preventive measure. The military is the culprit, but the companies involved have responsibilities.
Stein Tønnesson, a peace researcher at the Oslo Peace Research Institute with Myanmar experience, urged Telenor to protest.
“Telenor should also try to coordinate its protests with its two main competitors, Myanmar Post and Telecom (MPT) and Ooredoo. Telenor’s board of directors, which represents its shareholders, should ensure that everything is done by Telenor in this case.
Telenor Myanmar was last criticized in 2017. During the Rohingya genocide, a tower owned by Irrawaddy Green Towers and leased to Telenor in the village of Alethankyaw in Maungdaw township in Rakhine state was was used as a sniper post by Burmese soldiers during an attack on villagers.
A complaint was lodged with the OECD National Contact Point in December 2019 against Telenor for breach of human rights due diligence. The complaint, filed by the Committee Seeking Justice for Alethankyaw, is ongoing.
“No justifiable use of this weapon”
In September, a technician from Mytel in northern Shan State sustained a serious leg injury after stepping on a mine while repairing a tower, RFA reported. No casualties were reported in the Telenor towers but the risk remains.
A spokesperson for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines condemned Myanmar’s continued use of landmines.
“Our view is that there is no justifiable use of this weapon that kills civilians indiscriminately, by any actor, anywhere, anytime. We will continue to call on Myanmar to immediately end all mine use and make all efforts to clean up the contaminated land and provide widespread risk education services to protect the lives of civilians. “
According to Stein Tønnesson, the junta’s use of landmines violates international law, violating the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty which applies to Myanmar even though it is not a signatory.
“The Norwegian government should protest loudly against this violation of the Mine Ban Treaty,” he said.
The Norwegian government owns 53.97% of Telenor’s shares.
Our view is that there is no justifiable use of this weapon which kills civilians indiscriminately, by any actor, anywhere, anytime – a spokesperson for the International campaign to ban landmines
Chris Sidoti said Norway has a special responsibility as the owner of Telenor to pressure the Burmese military to stop using landmines.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Telenor is in the process of selling its Burmese company to the Lebanon-based M1 group owned by the Mikati family in a deal that has been criticized by activists for human rights and privacy concerns and is now the subject of an OECD national contact point. complaint.
M1 Group is a shareholder in the Irrawaddy Green Towers tower company.