Colombia’s Coca Clearers Face Landmine Danger
By Dialogo December 02, 2011
Growing numbers of civilians employed by the Colombian government to clear coca crops are being killed and injured by landmines, according to the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCCM).
Colombia’s drug-running rebel groups plant mines in and around coca fields – the raw ingredient of cocaine – to protect their valuable crop.
Colombia’s main guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is one of the largest planters of mines in the world. It has funded its nearly five decade war against the Colombian government mainly by drug trafficking.
“The guerrilla groups have declared a war against this government strategy of using manual eradicators. They plant mines in the areas where eradicators work,” Camilo Serna, operations coordinator at the Bogota-based non-governmental organisation CCCM, told AlertNet.
As well as aerial spraying coca crops, the Colombian government employs thousands of people to clear the coca plants by hand in jungle areas across the country. The majority are poor and live in rural areas.
“We believe civilians should not be put in such danger. The government should only be using specialised military demining teams – which Colombia has – in mined areas,” Serna said.
It is a practice that violates the 1997 Mine Bans Treaty, to which Colombia is a signatory, as it places civilians in mined areas, according to the CCCM.
Rebel groups booby-trap their coca crops, making the job of clearing coca by hand a risky task. They also make mines from plastic, using paint thinner and fertilizer as a masking agent, making it difficult for metal detectors and dogs to pick up, CCCM says.
Colombia has the second highest casualty rate of landmine victims in the world, trailing only behind Afghanistan, according to a recent report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).
While the report shows the number of new landmine casualties in Colombia has decreased by nearly a quarter – from 741 reported casualties in 2009 to 512 in 2010 – the number of coca clearers maimed and or killed by landmines has increased in recent years.