Armed Forces in Latin America remove land mines

The governments of Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina are working hard to remove dangerous land mines. The devices – many were deployed by terrorist and organized crime groups -- have killed or injured thousands of people in those countries.
Julieta Pelcastre | 30 May 2014

The governments of Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina are working hard to remove dangerous land mines. The devices – many were deployed by terrorist and organized crime groups -- have killed or injured thousands of people in those countries. Security forces in those countries have destroyed more than 200,000 land mines in recent years.

The governments of Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina “are on track” with demining activities, said Carlos Mendoza Mora, director of Strategic Projects Consulting, a private security firm in Mexico City.

Colombia has the world’s second highest number of land mines, second only to Afghanistan. From 1990 to 2014, explosive devices in Colombia wounded or killed an estimated 10,657 people, according to the website Accion (Actions Against Mines).

About 80 percent of the victims were killed, and about 20 percent were wounded. The victims included more than 6,300 military personnel and more than 4,100 civilians.

FARC and ELN land mines

People in rural areas of Colombia have been disproportionately killed and injured by land mines placed by terrorist and criminal groups.

“We have suffered this scourge for decades with devastating effects on the population, especially the sometimes invisible rural population, where women are the most affected,” Colombia’s newly appointed representative to the United Nations, Maria Emma Mejía, said at the UN on April 4 during the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

In the 1980s, the FARC and the ELN drastically increased their use of land mines. These groups used land mines to terrorize the civilian population.

Between 2007 and 2013, Colombian security forces destroyed more than 19,600 domestically-manufactured, according to Lt. Col José Reinel Herrán Villalba, director of the National Humanitarian Demining Center Against IEDs and Mines (CENAM) of the National Army of Colombia. The CENAM director reported the destruction of the mines while participating in an April 3 panel discussion, “Keeping the Momentum of Mine Action” at UN Headquarters.

In 2012, the Armed Forces of Colombia reported that two municipalities, San Carlos, Antioquia, and El Dorado, Meta, were mine-free, “which demonstrates the effectiveness of national capacity efforts,” Herrán Villalba said.

Land mines are a global problem

In 1994, land mines killed or injured a person every 20 minutes in the world. Today, land mines kill or injure 10 people every day, Paul Heslop, the program director of the UN Mine Action Service, said during a press conference in Geneva, Switzerland on April 3.

“The battle against mines is being won,” Heslop said. “However, we must continue working to completely eradicate these weapons.”

Colombia and other Latin American countries are not alone in facing threats from land mines. More than 65 million land mines threaten the lives of people in 56 countries around the world, José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS) said during the Global Conference on Assisting Landmine Victims in Medellin, Colombia on April 4.

The OAS has developed demining activities in Central America, a region where after 19 years of work, the eradication of these devices has been completed, Insulza said.

“The task of removing thousands of mines in Central America seemed impossible in 1991. The completion of demining operations in Nicaragua was the pinnacle of our efforts,” Insulza said. “ In 2010, we could declare Central America as a landmine-free territory. This means that it can be done.”

The Colombian government has been moving forward with all actions to ensure rights are respected in affected communities, promoting humanitarian demining, comprehensive victim assistance, and mine risk education, the director of the Presidential Program of Comprehensive Action against Anti-personnel Mines, Daniel Ávila Camacho told reporters on April 5.

Peru's demining efforts

Peru’s security forces are striving to remove all land mines from the country by March 2017.

The Army of Peru has disabled more than 7,500 so far. Of that number, 6,500 mines were deactivated during the administration of President Ollanta Humala, who was elected in 2011, according to Ahora.

A land mine costs three dollars (USD), while disabling a land mine costs the country about $1,000 (USD). About 15,000 land mines remain in Peru, Carlos Manuel Gil Montes Molinari the director of security and defense of the General Directorate for Multilateral and Global Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, told Ahora on March 28.

On the border between Chile and Argentina, there are about 10,000 mines, Mendoza Mora said.

Chile is also working to eradicate land mines. In 2013, the National Demining Commission and the Ministry of Education launched a campaign to inform the public about explosive devices and how to prevent land mine injuries.

In Magallanes, there are about 57,000 anti-tank mines, a cluster munition contaminated area, and an unknown number of unexploded military ordinances, the director of the civil organization Centro Zona Minada, Elir Rojas, told Diario UChile in October 2013.

In May, 2011, there were 363,000 land mines throughout the country, according to the National Demining Commission of Chile. Authorities have destroyed at about 192,000 of those mines.

Protecting civilians

The high cost of locating and disabling land mines is a challenge for national governments. Because land mines are spread out over large geographic areas, it often takes longer to locate and dismantle them than originally projected, Mendoza Mora said.

In addition to destroying land mines, Latin American governments should remain vigilant about educating the civilian population about areas which are dangerous because they contain land mines

The Armed Forces of the countries which are engaged in demining efforts are working hard to protect the civilian population, the security analyst said.

“The Armed Forces are working for safety in everyday civil society. All soldiers are putting their integrity and life on the line in order to achieve the objectives,” Mendoza Mora said. “Society should recognize the military’s efforts.”

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