BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Ten thousand Colombians have been injured or killed by landmines since 1990, the Colombian government has said.
The South American nation’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is responsible for planting most of the landmines and unexploded ordnance devices littered across the country, in its nearly 50-year war against the government.
According to the latest government figures, 6,222 members of the armed forces and 3,779 civilians, of whom 968 are children, have been maimed or killed by mine explosions since 1990, the date when officials started recording data on landmine victims.
Colombia’s vice president, Angelino Garzon, has called on the country’s two main rebel groups - the FARC and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) - to stop planting landmines.
“Only this way can we clear mines from lands farmers need so much to develop their communities, which would be an enormous contribution to the peace that all Colombians aspire to,” Garzon, who heads the government body in charge of demining and care for landmine victims, said in a statement earlier this week.
Rebels often plant mines near military bases and in the rural and jungle areas where they are active. Drug-running FARC rebels also plant mines in and around fields of coca - the raw ingredient of cocaine - to protect their valuable crop.
So far this year, 54 Colombians have been killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance devices.
Last week, a three-year-old girl died and five other children were injured as they played in a field with what they thought was a small ball in a southwestern village. The ball was in fact a grenade that exploded among them.
Colombia has the second highest casualty rate of landmine victims in the world, trailing only Afghanistan, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels are set to begin Oct. 8 in the Norwegian capital, Oslo. If the two sides reach an agreement, Colombia is likely to see the number of landmine victims fall significantly and demining operations stepped up.
According to the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines, if Colombia’s conflict stopped today, it would take 10 years to clear some 100,000 landmines scattered across the nation.