Colombia’s Counter-Drug Efforts Increasingly Complicated by Landmines

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As drug trafficking organizations make aerial eradication more difficult, authorities must rely on manual eradication, in which they are vulnerable to sniper attacks and, increasingly, landmines.  Colombia is leading South America in annual landmine deaths, and is second only to Afghanistan in the number of mine victims globally.

As the BBC reports, landmines have claimed the lives of 1,938 people since 1990. While Colombian government figures indicate that the majority of victims were police officers and soldiers, nearly 40 percent of those killed were civilians. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a disproportionate amount of those victims are children, who often mistake unearthed mines as toys.

Drug producers are increasingly growing coca in isolated areas, often hidden in dense plots of legal crops such as plantain. This forces authorities to launch extensive manual eradication campaigns, in which they must cut out coca plants with hoes or spray them with pesticides.  Such operations are extremely dangerous, as eradication teams are frequently targeted by armed groups.

In a recent report by Colombia’s Caracol news agency, a spokesperson for the Army’s Health Batallion claimed that around 800 soldiers were wounded in 2010 by landmines laid by the guerrilla groups.

This increasing violence has led the military to seek unconventional de-mining alternatives. According to the Los Angeles Times, next year the government will begin to use squads of trained rats to locate and uncover land mines. Although the rats are said to be more effective than bomb-sniffing dogs, it remains to be seen whether they will become a widespread tool, or if their use will significantly impact de-mining efforts in the country.

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