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Colombia: Hitnu Indian is the first Land Mine Victim

Servindi, January 22, 2011 - The Hitnu Indian, Rafael Pérez, was the first land mine fatality of 2011 in Colombia. Each year, this explosive device kills and maims dozens of people in that country.

On Sunday, Pérez, approximately 78 years old, went looking for firewood when he stepped on the device in an area where guerrilla groups operate, on the outskirts of an indigenous reserve in Arauca, 460 kilometers northeast of Bogotá.

The coordinator of the Colombian Campaign to Ban Land Mines in Arauca, Clara Inés Moreno, stated in a telephone interview that "the indigenous people (of the reserve) said that they were not going to bury the body, because if they did, the government would not acknowledge that they were in danger of dying from mines. They were not going to clear the area."

It is worth mentioning that guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are present in Arauca. According to Moreno, they both use mines.

In 2010, "one hundred twenty indigenous people were killed for political reasons, due to the direct action of the (illegal) armed groups and they (died) in combat with guerrillas, paramilitaries and security forces," stated Luis Evelis Andrade, President of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).

In 2009, 111 indigenous deaths in separate incidents were attributed to illegal groups.

Fatalities

The exact number of fatalities due to land mines in Colombia is unknown. As per the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Action against Anti-Personnel Mines, 36 civilians and army officers fell victim to these devices in 2010.

Nevertheless, the military commander, Admiral Edgar Cely, stated that at least 97 of the 315 military deaths recorded last year were mine victims. The Program did not immediately clarify the difference in the data.

Approximately US$ 3.5 million has been provided to this program this year, 70% more than in 2010.

"These resources will be used for humanitarian work, mine clearance and prevention campaigns," Daniel Ávila, Director of the Presidential Program for Comprehensive Action against Anti-Personnel Mines, indicated.

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