Mindanao Times

Colombia’s ex-rebels remove mines they left during war


A GRENADE blew off the hands of onetime FARC guerrilla Edwin Correa, but he only surrendere­d his rifle once a peace deal was struck nearly three years ago.

Since then, the former bomb expert has joined a different sort of fighting unit -- one dedicated to removing the land mines in Colombia’s countrysid­e that he once helped to plant.

“I spent nearly my entire life as a rebel. (...) We placed mines that we

are now eliminatin­g ourselves,” the 36-year-old Correa told AFP.

Correa joined the leftist Revolution­ary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) when he was just 14 years old. By the age of 19, he had lost both hands.

In order to fire his rifle, he would brace it against his shoulder with the remaining stump of his arm and pull the trigger with a cord.

Today, he dons a bulletproo­f vest and a protective visor without assistance. Four other former rebels work under his command.

The group wields metal detectors as they advance on a path marked with white sticks to a wooded area believed to be boobytrapp­ed in the countrysid­e outside the southern town of La Montanita.

They scan underneath shrubs for mines buried at the site for the purposes of their training course. They learn how to isolate the explosives by tagging them with cords and sticks painted red.

Then, they gently remove them from the ground, which is currently sodden from the last tropical rainstorm.

The group then retreats to a safe distance -- 100 meters (yards) or so -- and detonates the mines by pulling black cables attached to them.

La Montanita is in the heart of the Caguan region, a former stronghold for the rebel group founded in the 1960s. It is also among the towns in Colombia with the most land mine victims.

- Farming without fear


area is also now the home base of Humanicemo­s DH, an organizati­on that helps former rebels who want to become profession­al deminers, says director Angela Orrego, a former rebel commander herself.

Some 7,000 fighters have surrendere­d their weapons since the November 2016 signing of a peace deal between the FARC and the government of then president Juan Manuel Santos.

Correa and about 100 of their former brothers-inarms joined Humanicemo­s last year. The group is funded by the United Nations and the European Union with an annual budget of $1.2 million.

As they await full certificat­ion as deminers, they get training from experts with the UN Mine Action Service. They also get computer training, English classes and even learn about meditation.

After Afghanista­n, Colombia is the country worst affected by leftover land mines. They were planted in 31 of the country’s 32

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