Colombian Defense Firm Joins Demining Efforts

Colombian Defense Firm Joins Demining Efforts

By Dialogo
August 11, 2015


Industria Militar Colombiana (Colombian Military Industry, or INDUMIL), a state-owned company that manufactures explosives and munitions, is now supporting the humanitarian demining process in Colombia.

IDUMIL is assisting the efforts of the Science and Technology Committee on Humanitarian Demining, which was created during the first half of 2015 by the Directorate for Comprehensive Action on Antipersonnel Mines (DAICMA), to propose strategies to reduce the risk and increase the speed of the demining process.

The initiative’s goal is to end deaths and injuries caused by landmines in 688 municipalities by 2025, as the explosive devices have killed and wounded thousands of people during the last 15 years. From 1990 to August 6, 2015, landmines killed 2,224 people, including 809 civilians, and injured nearly 9,000 others, according to DAICMA.

Since January 1, landmines have injured or killed 130 victims, including 43 civilians and 87 members of the country's security forces, according to the government, which did not immediately provide the number of people killed during that time frame. The departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Meta, Caquetá, and Nariño recorded the largest number of victims.

Many of the victims were seriously injured or killed with little or no warning.

For example, on July 15, Wilson de Jesús Martínez, a 37-year-old Army Soldier, was killed when he stepped on an explosive device while conducting a technical inspection in the village of El Orejón, located in the department of Antioquia.

A collaborative approach

Authorities hope to prevent this kind of tragedy by bringing together professionals from different sectors, including scientists from the National University of Colombia, Pontifical Xavierian University, the University of Los Andes, the Military University of Nueva Granada, and officials from the defense industry, said Oscar Andrés Orduz Salamanca, an INDUMIL researcher.

“The defense industry is 100 percent interested in the topic of humanitarian demining efforts, supporting the technical portion from the science section with engineers, and the research side in the defense industry to develop new mine detection systems and new mine destruction techniques,” he added.

Members from the Science and Technology Committee on Humanitarian Demining received their first training session on explosions from landmines on June 18 at the Technical and Scientific Testing Field for Humanitarian Demining, an 18-hectare complex at INDUMIL's Antonio Ricaurte explosives factory in the municipality of Sibaté, 40 kilometers from Bogotá.

“It is very important that the scientists involved in the research on humanitarian demining efforts have first-hand knowledge about how possible mines or improvised devices explode,” Orduz Salamanca said.

The testing field, which was chosen because it’s geographically similar to most of the mined areas in Colombia, has the necessary infrastructure to provide instruction in five areas:

Training, in which users test tools such as minesweepers;

Neutralization and deactivation of explosives and soil studies, which focuses on the impact of different types of mines in different terrain;

Electronics training classes;

Ballistics and real-life tests with mines;

Training canines to detect mines.

Effort launched by landmine survivors

Colombia's initiative to eliminate deaths and injuries by landmines was launched in 1991 by a group of landmine survivors, which included retired Colombian Army Captain Óscar Buitrago, INDUMIL’s manager of humanitarian demining.

“I stepped on an antipersonnel mine in 1991, and since that time, we have begun a process with various survivors to reach out to the world, direct their attention to Colombia, and propose new techniques and technologies for demining,” Capt. Buitrago said.

Capt. Buitrago is pleased the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have agreed to remove all landmines from Colombia, and that other sectors, including academia, are joining the Military in an effort to save thousands of lives.

An array of tactics to prevent landmine accidents

The effort to save lives from landmines will use a variety of tactics, Capt. Buitrago said.

“We are going to employ canines, which will carry chips such as those used by Norway People’s Aid or DDG (Danish Demining Group), which uses canines with satellite chips to be able to locate improvised explosive devices or antipersonnel mines,” he added. “In addition, we will test the rodents used in other parts of the world. We will see if we can use them here, too.”

INDUMIL is also working on a chemical that will destroy a mine without creating noise that would alarm civilians. In addition, the company is working on developing techniques to detect plastic mines, which are more difficult to locate.

Luis Alberto Garzón, the production division chief at INDUMIL Antonio Ricaurte explosives factory, called upon the international community to join these humanitarian demining efforts in Colombia.

“Any entity that is interested in providing this aid will always be welcome to join in this important work,” he said. “The country needs research organizations, universities, and organizations that have done outreach on these activities to help us give Colombians a country free of mines.”

The United States is assisting Colombia to reach their goal, having contributed $2 million since 2006 for demining efforts in various parts of the Andean nation.