Landmines kill 1, wound 2 in Colombia (COLOMBIA)
Bogota, Mar 10 (EFE).- An Indian was killed and two others wounded when they stepped on landmines planted by leftist rebels in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca, a military spokesman said.
The landmines went off near the town of La Plata, located 600 kilometers (373 miles) southwest of Bogota, as the Indians were harvesting corn, 29th Brigade commander Gen. Leonardo Barrero.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas planted the landmines, Barrero said, adding that troops under his command were carrying out an operation targeting two of the rebel group's units.
Landmines have been planted in 31 of Colombia's 32 provinces, according to the United Nations.
Up to 100,000 of the weapons are estimated to have been planted around the Andean nation, the great majority of them by leftist rebels seeking to inflict casualties on soldiers and protect coca plantations that supply their extensive drug trafficking operations.
Almost all of the weapons are "non-industrial" homemade mines manufactured in guerrilla camps at low cost.
Having ratified in 2001 the Ottawa Convention, which outlaws the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel mines, the Colombian government subsequently developed an action plan to rid the country of the buried weapons.
Colombia's first reported incident in which a landmine killed or injured a non-combatant was in 1990, and, since then, hundreds of municipalities have in one way or another been affected by the buried explosives.
A 2006 report by the international Landmine Monitor said that an average of three Colombians per day were victims of landmine blasts. Among those killed were nearly 500 children.
In 2007, landmines claimed 874 victims in Colombia, according to government figures.
Landmine Monitor said that while some manufactured devices have been imported into Colombia, most of the mines deployed in the Andean nation were more-difficult-to-detect homemade bombs.
The global watchdog organization also noted that 97 percent of Colombia's landmine blasts occurred in rural areas, which together constitute the main battleground in the country's internal conflict.
Colombia is thought to have anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 landmines buried in its soil, each with a "useful" life of 50 years or so.
The Colombian armed forces destroyed the last 6,814 mines in their arsenals on Oct. 24, 2004.
Landmine Monitor said that planting each mine costs the insurgents less than $2, while it costs the country about $1,000 to eliminate one.
The FARC, Colombia's oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964 and today operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The rebel organization has an estimated 8,000 to 17,000 fighters and is still led by septuagenarian founder Manuel Marulanda, who is known as "Sureshot."
President Alvaro Uribe's administration has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
On March 1, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.
Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed Friday by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader's hand and presented it to army troops as proof that the rebel chief was dead.
A succession of governments have battled Colombia's leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.
In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized "neutral" zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC's main means of financing its operations.
The guerrilla group is holding 40 high-value hostages it deems "exchangeable" for as many as 500 jailed rebels. Among the "exchangeables" are three U.S. military contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. EFE
Von: 10.3.2008, (c) Copyright 2008 EFE News Service