Weapons: Outlaws Get What They Want

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October 11, 2012: Colombia continues to be a major victim of landmines. Only Afghanistan has more landmine casualties each year. Since 1990, some 10,000 Colombians have been killed or wounded by mines. Police and soldiers are the most common (52 percent) victims with the rest being civilians (a quarter of them children). The leftist rebels (FARC and ELN) and the drug gangs they work with prefer to use the mines to protect bases and drug production facilities. The government has brought in more helicopters and modern mine clearing gear to either fly over the mines or quickly clear a path through them. But all the mines are rarely cleared because the rebels and drug gangs are not eager to provide information on where all the mines were planted, or did not keep good records in the first place.

In the rest of the world, mines are still used by some governments (Israel, Syria, and Myanmar/Burma). Until the Kaddafi government fell last year, Libya still laid new mine fields. Some Central Asian countries are believed to have used some landmines to try and discourage smugglers. Mines are a favorite weapon with rebels, terrorists, and drug producing gangs. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan have long used mines. In fact, the number of nations and rebel groups using mines has been on the increase. In addition, there are three countries still manufacturing landmines (India, Myanmar, and Pakistan). Arms dealers will still provide large quantities of Russian and Chinese landmines, many of them Cold War surplus.

In the last decade there has been a growing list of outlaw organizations that are ignoring the 1999 Ottawa Convention to ban landmines. Landmines are still causing thousands of casualties a year worldwide. About twenty percent of the victims are killed and 90 percent of them are males. This is largely because men are more likely to be out in the bush or working farmlands that still contain mines. A third of the casualties are security personnel (police and soldiers). This is because in many countries rebels and criminals are still using landmines, either factory made ones from countries that did not sign the Ottawa Convention or locally made models.

Landmines are simple to make and workshops are easily set up to do it. There's no shortage of mines out there, despite the fact that in the first few years after the 1999 Ottawa Convention was signed over 25 million landmines, in the arsenals of over fifty nations, were destroyed. But these nations were not users and rarely sold them either. For those who want landmines they find a way to obtain and use them. The Taliban are the latest group to demonstrate this. Leftist rebel group FARC in Colombia has been making their own mines for years now, as have Islamic and communist rebels in the Philippines.

The 1999 Ottawa Convention was supposed to have reduced land mine casualties among civilians. It hasn't worked because the owners of the largest landmine stockpiles, Russia and China, refused to sign. Chinese land mines are still available on the international arms black market. China is believed to have a stockpile of over a hundred million land mines (mostly anti-personnel). The old ones are often sold before (or even after) they become worthless. But even these mines, which go for $5-10 each, are too expensive for many of the criminal organizations that buy them. In Colombia leftist rebels are losing their four decade war to establish a socialist dictatorship. So they have been using more land mines against soldiers and police, as well as civilian populations they want to control. This was how land mines were widely used in Afghanistan and Cambodia. In Colombia the rebels find it cheaper to build their own. Labor is cheap, as are the components. Thus land mines, competitive with the factory built ones from China, can be built for less than three dollars each. You can find all the technical data you need on the Internet.

Anti-vehicle mines are increasingly popular and are particularly common in poor countries where there are still a lot of dirt roads traveled by buses and trucks carrying dozens of passengers each. While these mines are usually intended for military vehicles, mines can't tell the difference. As a result, in this year or next, Colombia or Afghanistan will have the largest number of annual mine casualties in the world.

 


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