TOLEMAIDA BASE, Colombia – The Spanish army has launched an ambitious plan to train Colombian troops in techniques for the humanitarian clearing of minefields, as an aid to removing the deadly explosives planted over more than half a century of internal armed conflict.
Colombia is the country after Afghanistan where landmines have caused the most bloodshed, and which from 1990 until last Sept. 30, took 11,460 lives among the military, police and civilians, according to official figures.
“Clearing minefields is a technology of peace that allows displaced communities to take back their lands,” the commander of engineers of the Spanish army’s International Minefield Clearance Center, Jose Luis Aguado, told EFE.
The commander said that Spain’s experience in clearing and deactivating landmines goes back to the peace mission to Bosnia between 1995-2007, and also includes the work of the TEDAX police bomb unit, which for decades deactivated explosives of the ETA terrorist organization.
At present there are 11 Spanish army specialists at Tolemaida, Colombia’s largest military base, who are instructing more than 70 trainers of the Colombian army in techniques for deactivating landmines and other explosive devices.
Remote-controlled anti-mine machines press down on explosives hidden underground to detonate them and in so doing are able to clear more than 5,370 sq. feet (500 sq. meters) of land per day.
On the contrary, clearing landmines by hand demands a rhythm much more laid back in order to find, extract and detonate the explosives “in situ,” in an operation that seems to combine the meticulous care of a surgeon with the ritualistic procedures of a Japanese tea ceremony.
“Demobilizing the guerrilla group makes it easier for our battalions to enter areas the FARC has abandoned to start the humanitarian clearance of minefields,” Colombian Col. Rodrigo Cepeda of the National Mines Center told EFE.
Nonetheless, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines recently warned that the objective is not realistic, since no accurate intelligence exists of the mined territories.