The Return Of Cluster Bombs To Southeast Asia
By Danae Hendrickson
Two disturbing milestones were passed in 2023. In April, the Cluster Munition Monitor, the research wing of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), identified the first use of cluster munitions in Southeast Asia since the Indochina War ended 48 years ago, in 1975. On April 25, the Myanmar Air Force dropped a domestically produced cluster bomb on the village of Mae Ka Neh in Karen State of Myanmar/Burma. The village lies roughly 10 kilometers from the border with Thailand.
The event also marked the first time any Southeast Asian nation is known to have produced a cluster weapon. Previously, all cluster munitions in Southeast Asia came from a few producer countries: the United States, Russia and Brazil. Identification of the cluster bomb was time-consuming as it did not conform to standard construction. Instead, it sourced already existing munitions from the Defense Products Industries of Myanmar, a state enterprise, and repurposed them as submunitions in a cargo bomb body. Nonetheless, the design meets the technical definition of a banned weapon as established by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Since its first positive identification of cluster bomb use in April, the Cluster Munition Monitor has also identified previous and subsequent use of the weapon, including in Karenni State, Shan State and Chin State of Myanmar/Burma. The cluster bomb use in those states has led to the deaths and injuries of civilians and has destroyed housing, religious buildings and medical facilities, including the hospital pictured with this article.
In early September, at the Eleventh Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva, Myanmar/Burma was specifically condemned for its production and use of cluster munitions in statements by Switzerland, New Zealand, Mexico, Ireland and civil society participants including the CMC. However, not a single member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) joined in the condemnation.
Photo: Fragmentation damage on Saung Pwe Hospital after a cluster bomb attack. Pekon township, Shan State, Myanmar/Burma © Karenni Human Rights Group, 2023