Hot land-mine action

Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness, the second year in a row that the United Nations has set aside to raise awareness of mines littering the landscape of war-torn countries. A decade ago, 26,000 people worldwide were killed by land mines. Today, that figure is between 15,000 to 20,000 — significantly lower than before, ...

602847_minewarning5.jpg
602847_minewarning5.jpg

Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness, the second year in a row that the United Nations has set aside to raise awareness of mines littering the landscape of war-torn countries. A decade ago, 26,000 people worldwide were killed by land mines. Today, that figure is between 15,000 to 20,000 — significantly lower than before, but still incredibly high. To mark the day, the U.N. is setting up a mock minefield at headquarters in New York, on the lawn north of the Secretariat. Experts will demine the field throughout the day. 

So which part of the world still has the most unexploded land mines? Could it be Sri Lanka? Angola? Somewhere in the Balkans? Afghanistan? Nope. Try Colombia. Until 2005, Cambodia was the world's "leader" in land mines, with the countryside chockful of explosive devices left over from the Khmer Rouge's rule in the 1970s. But with the International Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Treaty), which came into force in 1999 and banned the production of land mines, countries began destroying their own mines and sweeping fields to detonate them before civilians could stumble upon them. Over the past several years, countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Yemen have made huge progress in destroying their stockpiles and clearing their fields.

Colombia, though, which took Cambodia's place at the top of the list in 2005, has actually seen an increase in land mine casualties, with the number of victims doubling in the past four years. Ever since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002 and fortified the military with U.S.-made weapons, leftist rebels have retreated into the jungles and planted more and more mines. Three-quarters of the victims are soldiers and police officers. Apparently these rebel forces, which include ELN and FARC, are not keeping good records of where they are placing these killer weapons. 

Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness, the second year in a row that the United Nations has set aside to raise awareness of mines littering the landscape of war-torn countries. A decade ago, 26,000 people worldwide were killed by land mines. Today, that figure is between 15,000 to 20,000 — significantly lower than before, but still incredibly high. To mark the day, the U.N. is setting up a mock minefield at headquarters in New York, on the lawn north of the Secretariat. Experts will demine the field throughout the day. 

So which part of the world still has the most unexploded land mines? Could it be Sri Lanka? Angola? Somewhere in the Balkans? Afghanistan? Nope. Try Colombia. Until 2005, Cambodia was the world’s “leader” in land mines, with the countryside chockful of explosive devices left over from the Khmer Rouge’s rule in the 1970s. But with the International Mine Ban Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Treaty), which came into force in 1999 and banned the production of land mines, countries began destroying their own mines and sweeping fields to detonate them before civilians could stumble upon them. Over the past several years, countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, and Yemen have made huge progress in destroying their stockpiles and clearing their fields.

Colombia, though, which took Cambodia’s place at the top of the list in 2005, has actually seen an increase in land mine casualties, with the number of victims doubling in the past four years. Ever since President Alvaro Uribe took office in 2002 and fortified the military with U.S.-made weapons, leftist rebels have retreated into the jungles and planted more and more mines. Three-quarters of the victims are soldiers and police officers. Apparently these rebel forces, which include ELN and FARC, are not keeping good records of where they are placing these killer weapons. 

Christine Y. Chen is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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