Landmines remain a problem in Colombia

The town of Zambrano becomes only the third municipality in Colombia free from landmines.

Landmines remain a problem in Colombia

World Bulletin / News Desk

Colombians remain all too aware of the damage and suffering brought by landmines even as they demonstrated their solidarity with the UN declared International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action this month.

Between 1990 and 2013 some 2,156 Colombians died due to landmines and an additional 7,904 were wounded, according to figures from the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (PAICMA).

All but one of Colombia’s 32 states are afflicted by landmines. And this week the Colombian Army’s engineering division announced that the town of Zambrano, 560 miles north of the capital Bogota in the state or department of Bolivar, is only the third municipality completely free from landmines.

“We treat between 230 and 250 soldiers annually who have been injured by landmines,” said Col. Javier Ignacio Ortíz Rozo, the commanding officer of the Directorate General of Military Health who is in charge of all medical staff and wounded servicemen at Bogota’s Army Rehabilitation Center.

No single armed group in Colombia is solely responsible for these artisanal “quiebrapatas” or leg breakers, constructed from deadly explosives and hidden in ordinary household containers like plastic bottles and bags to waterproof them.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the paramilitaries have all typically used the same approach: place booby-trapped devices to inflict as many casualties as possible and chase villagers from strategic positions. In many cases, landmines have been hidden on or near paths leading to a town’s water source.

The Colombian Army’s Engineering Division has now taken on the role of “humanitarian demining.”

“In March 2011 we were able to completely rid perhaps one of Colombia’s most violent towns, San Carlos, Antioquía, of landmines,” said Col. Carlos Ivan Cadena Montenegro, commanding officer in charge of the humanitarian demining division. “It was the first town to achieve this status in Colombia.”

But that was only after the local FARC militia had demobilized.

And the complexities of the civil conflict and Colombia’s topography make the military engineers’ jobs particularly tough. Colombia suffers from tropical rainfalls in various regions and seismic problems in others and these routinely trigger landslides throughout the country, displacing landmines and shifting their positions.

All agree, there is still is much work to do. In 2014, in addition to Zambrano, Cadena's team hopes to finish demining the towns of Carmen de Chucuri in Santander and Granada in Antioquía. Overall, 72 municipalities in 12 departments across Colombia have been given priority for demining.

Last Mod: 09 Nisan 2014, 11:52
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