COLOMBIA tops list of land mine victims
BOGOTA, Colombia, 04.04.2006 - Only the person who delicately hid the land mine on a rural country lane knows how long it sat in the undergrowth awaiting Joan Giraldo.
The 21-year-old farm worker stepped on the mine on Oct. 30 in northwest Colombia, severely damaging his right leg. Doctors would later be forced to amputate.
Before being maimed, Giraldo could earn the equivalent of $6.50 a day, not a good wage but enough to live on in Colombia's countryside. Now he says it is impossible to work and he is waiting for a prosthetic leg.
"It's been hard because I've only ever worked in the countryside, but now I would like to study and finish high school," said Giraldo as he took a break from playing board games in a church-run home in Bogota, the capital, for people crippled by land mines.
Beyond the physical pain and suffering, Giraldo's case reveals the often overlooked economic cost of land mines. It's one aspect that organizers across the world are hoping to highlight on Tuesday, the U.N.'s International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
Colombia has been hit hard by land mines and the damage they inflict.
The government blames leftist rebels for planting most of the mines scattered across the country, and the number of those falling victim to them is increasing.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Colombia had the third-highest number of land mine victims in 2004 after Cambodia and Afghanistan. The count was incomplete for 2005.
The Colombian government's Land Mines Observatory recorded 1,070 land mine victims in Colombia in 2005 and said the number was more than in any other country. One quarter of these incidents resulted in deaths.
Land mines are perhaps the perfect embodiment of Colombia's civil war, a mechanism designed to kill and maim that draws no distinction between armed combatant and innocent civilian.
The majority of the victims are soldiers, many of whom are slowly trudging their way through heavily mined leftist strongholds in southern Colombia in the country's biggest offensive against the rebels. But a full quarter of those injured or killed, according to government figures, are civilians caught in the middle of the violence.
Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has been trying to overthrow the government for 40 years to force social change and massive wealth redistribution. The conflict claims thousands of lives every year.
FARC has largely rejected peace entreaties, declaring as recently as January that it would never negotiate with the government of President Alvaro Uribe.
Colombia, a signatory to the international Mine Ban Treaty, stopped making land mines in 1997 and is in the process of removing mines that still surround 33 military bases. But mine clearing has been severely hampered by the fact that unlike most other countries that suffer from land mines, rebels in Colombia continue to plant the explosives.
"It's very difficult to see a solution until the illegal armed groups stop sowing these land mines," said Luz Piedad Herrera, director of the Land Mine Observatory. "If this continues, we'll become a country of mutilated."
The government says land mines have proliferated in recent years because they're efficient and cheap. The average mine costs $1 to make, but an average of $1,000 to remove, the government said.
With a rough estimate of 100,000 mines across the country, the removal cost would total $100 million - money the cash-strapped Colombian government can little afford.
Just as celebrities across the world from the late Princess Diana and Paul McCartney have taken up the issue, so have Colombian celebrities. Rocker Juanes is to hold a concert in May called "Colombia Without Mines," which aims to raise money for those injured by land mines.
Von: By TOBY MUSE, 04.04.2006, www.twincities.com