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