Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Improvised Anti Personnel Mines in Colombia

On March 7, 2015 the Colombian government and the FARC-EP reached an agreement to start a demining pilot project in the town El Orejón, Antioquia. Colombia is a nation severely affected by landmines. In 2006 the number of victims was as high as 1,227 of which 237 were reported dead. The accumulated number of victims since 1990 reached the number of 10,812 at the end of 2014. More than 10,000 potentially Suspect Hazardous Areas (SHAs) exist in Colombia. According to government statistics, there are more than 3.6 million registered Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Colombia, and landmine contamination is a contributory factor preventing these people from returning to their land. AP mines have been laid by all Non States Armed Groups (NSAGs) in Colombia as well as the State's Security Forces. Never the less there is also good news. The yearly number of victims is declining fast!

Mine Ban Treaty and National Laws

Colombia signed the Mine Ban Treaty on 3 December 1997 and ratified on 6 September 2000, becoming a State Party on 1 March 2001.
National implementation legislation came into effect by Law 759 on 25 July 2002. In relation to the Mine Ban Treaty, Colombia has also passed laws on victim assistance, land restitution, and civilian humanitarian demining operations. Law 1421 of 2010 permits NGOs to conduct humanitarian demining operations in the country. On 13 July 2011, the Colombian Presidential Program for Comprehensive Mine Action (Programa Presidencial de Acción Integral Contra Minas Antipersonales, PAICMA) published the draft regulatory decree of Law 1421. Law 3750 of 10 October 2011 regulates demining by civil society organizations.

Victim Statistics

There are over 100,000 AP mines laid in the country. An estimated 25 percent of landmines were laid by the ELN, according to government statistics, and 1 percent by the now-disbanded paramilitary group, the AUC.

Graph of the Victim Statistics of Anti Personnel Mines
in Colombia over the Years 1990-2014
(Click to Enlarge)

In the graph above victims are defined as wounded and dead persons. The graph shows us some important clues. What catches the eye first is the rapid and steady decline since the peak of 1,227 victims in 2006. Another remarkable thing is the difference in victims rate between civil and police & military victims that starts to grow rapidly in 2002. Notice that the peak in 2006 finds is cause almost entirely in police & military victims.

The graph can be explained as follows. The victims peak starts about to grow in 1999 when the peace negotiations (November 1998) with the FARC under president Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) began and continued while no cease fire was agreed. The negotiations were eventually to be aborted in February 2002. AP mines are NSAG's most efficient weapon to combat the security forces. Exploding AP mines can efficiently prevent military troops to advance during combat. AP mines can also protect guerrilla camps against raids of the security forces very well. During president Alvaro Uribe's terms 2003-2010 and with the help of the paramilitaries the fight of the security forces against the guerrillas intensified very much. The graph's peak of military & police victims in 2006 resembles this. The decline of military & police victims that started in 2006, was caused by new tactics. In 2006 the Colombian Air force started to drop US precision bombs on FARC camps that were located by use of FLIR reconnaissance airplanes. The Colombian army didn't have to raid FARC camps with foot soldiers anymore. Also the aerial coca eradication program intensified. Therefore coca fields were less and less eradicated by hand. Since coca fields of the FARC, ELN and paramilitaries were often protected with AP mines, the  victims rate of military & police was able to decline for that reason as well.

However, another important reason for the steep decline in AP mine victims is the fact that the FARC and ELN use exclusively self-destructing or self-neutralizing AP mines. They are self manufactured on a large scale and most of them are self-neutralized after approx. 1 to 3 years, due to moisture sensitivity and/or weathering of the batteries. Because of the self-neutralizing effect, old AP mines are often not cleaned up and being left behind in the field. However, FARC guerrillas regularly clean up the area when they are leaving it. NSAGs have to replace their AP-mines regularly to remain effective.

Because of the intensified fight against the FARC during Uribe's and Santos' presidential terms, the FARC ranks diminished seriously. Therefore the FARC was able to plant considerably less numbers of fresh AP-mines then before, while the old ones neutralised themselves.

Most Commonly Used Improvised Anti Personnel Mines

Mostly all of the found AP mines in Colombia are of the improvised self manufactured type as described below. Except for the military and paramilitary AUC, all NSAGs in Colombia (FARC, ELN, BACRIMs and Narco-traffickers) have used and are using this type of mines. It is impossible to attribute with certainty the identity of the NSAG who laid the AP mine. There is no identity tag or serialno. on the improvised AP mine! To identify and attribute the fragments of an exploded AP mine is even more difficult. Usually the AP mine is attributed to the NSAG who controls the area where the mine was found at that time. But control over most areas has changed frequently in time. On top of that, NSAGs are not the only ones who have laid and lay mines in Colombia. In several parts of the country such as Chocó, farmers make their own antipersonnel mines for different reasons, including to protect their (Coca) crops from animals and from theft.

Nobody exactly knows how many AP mines are planted in Colombia. Because of regularly seizures of large stockpiles and caches, estimated figures are well above 100,000. Despite the huge attribution uncertainties that are mentioned here above, the authorities have published some attribution estimates in the past.

According to a December 2001 report by the Vice President's Office, there were 243 reported cases of mine use in the first ten months of 2001. It could not determine responsibility for mine use in 42 percent of the cases, but it attributed 57 percent of responsibility to illegal armed groups. Of these, FARC was responsible for 30 percent of the cases, ELN for 25.9 percent and
"self-defense groups" (AUC paramilitary forces) for 1.6 percent.

A 2005 government FAQ document about landmines says that about 45% of all planted AP mines can be attributed to the FARC, 25% to ELN, 1% to AUC paramilitaries while 24% cannot be determined.

Improvised Anti Personnel Mine as manufactured
by the FARC, BACRIM and ELN
(Click to Enlarge)

Improvised Anti Personel Mine as manufactured by
the FARC, BACRIM and ELN and known as 'Mina Quiebrapatas Quimica'
(Click to Enlarge)

The 'Mina Quiebrapatas Quimica' (Chemical legbreaker), usually contains no metal parts and is therefore only detectable by trained dogs. NitroCellulose is a major component of smokeless gunpowder. The thermal stability of NitroCellulose decreases rapidly when high concentrated sulfuric acid is added by use of the syringe. The Nitrocellulose will then spontaneously explode and this explosion will detonate the main ANFO explosive. However, sulphuric acid is very moisture sensitive and so is ANFO. After one rainy season the AP mine usually will be soaked enough with moisture to self-neutralize itself.

Open view of an Improvised Anti Personel Mine
as manufactured by the FARC, ELN and BACRIMs known as
'Mina Quiebrapatas'
(Click to Enlarge)

The typical Quiebrapatas (legbreaker) mine is a plastic tube painted in camouflage colors and with a mounted syringe on top. The syringe is wired to act as a simple electrical switch that activates an electrical detonator inside. The mine contains 2 AA batteries. Because of the batteries and the metal wiring, this type of mine is detectable by mine detectors. The main explosive is usually ANFO. Other versions of this type of AP mine could have the batteries mounted on the outside or could be wired to a photo-cell or mercury motion sensor.

AP Mine laying groups

Colombian Army

Though never before publicly acknowledged, Colombia has been a producer of
antipersonnel mines. Antipersonnel mines were produced at Industria Militar (INDUMIL), a Colombian government facility. INDUMIL produced only one type of antipersonnel mine in two versions: the MN-MAP-1, a plastic blast copper percussion mine equipped with a 60 grams charge of pentolite, a IM-M8 detonator with red explosive, a hammer and a total weight of 200 grams; and the MN-MAP-2, an antipersonnel mine simulator used for military practice which has a perforated plastic body, an inert charge. INDUMIL ceased production of antipersonnel mines in September 1998 and destroyed its production equipment on 18 November 1999. The Colombian army reported completion of the destruction of its stockpile of 18,531 antipersonnel mines of several types on 24 October 2004. The types of AP mines the Colombian army used were INDUMIL MN-MAP-1, Belgian SOPRO, US M-14 and US M-16. The Colombian army laid AP mines during combat actions with the FARC and ELN and used AP-mines to protect infrastructure objects, their temporary military camps and stationary bases and installations.

Professionally made AP mines have a lifetime of over 50 years, because most mines employ a spring-loaded striker that hits a stab detonator when activated by the victim. Typically, the detonator contains a tiny pellet of lead azide. The AP mine is encased in a water- and moisture proof plastic container. Because of this very long lifetime, the threat to the population is on average 50 times greater (!) in comparison to the 'self-neutralizing' manufactured AP mines of the FARC and ELN.

The Colombian military laid defensive mines around 35 of their bases which have now been cleared by military engineers. The Commander of the Army at the time, General Fernando Tapias, indicated that the Army laid approximately 20,000 antipersonnel mines all over the country. The most common type in use by the Colombian army was Indumil MN-MAP-1.


The paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), that cooperated with the Colombian army to fight guerrillas has laid AP-mines too in areas that were to be ethnically cleansed and in FARC/ELN combat areas, and also covertly to protect their own coca fields. The AUC used professional AP-mines, which they - besides other weapons - bought on the black market and/or imported covertly. Many small farmers who were forced by the AUC to leave their lands and now can legitimately return, are often prevented from doing this because of AP mines the AUC laid and never cleared. The AUC has become one of the best-equipped armed groups in the world during its rise between the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Between 2003 and 2006, 30,671 members of the AUC participated in collective demobilisation ceremonies and handed in a total of 18,051 weapons in the collective demobilisations –– creating a rate of only 0.59 surrendered arms per demobilised person. There was only one report regarding mines; in Cesar, the AUC turned in five antipersonnel mines in February 2006. However, 500 antipersonnel mines were seized from the AUC later in the same month.


BACRIM (which comes from the Spanish "bandas criminales" or "criminal bands") are known to have been planting mines to protect coca crops, drug trafficking corridors and illegal mining interests. They plant AP-mines of the IED types, similar as the FARC is using.
In the Bajo Cauca region, also in Antioquia, communities have also reported that the BACRIM -- along with the FARC and the smaller guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) -- have been planting mines on paths used by the civilian population. There have been further reports of the BACRIM using mines in the departments of Magdalena and Valle del Cauca.


The FARC is suspected to have laid most improvised AP mines in Colombia. The suspicion is fueled by the frequent discoveries of large stockpiles: On April 26, 2011 the police discovered 1,200 pipes, intended for conversion into handmade landmines, in a remote part of the northern department of Bolivar. They also found 35 kilograms of ammonium nitrate, shrapnel and electric wire. On May 9, 2013 the Colombian army found 5,000 antipersonnel mines in the jungle near the town of Albania in the department of Caqueta, apparently prepared by the FARC, which rises to 7,345 artifacts of this type found in only five days in this part of the country. In June 2014, Colombian forces reported the discovery and destruction of a FARC arms cache of 660 pounds of explosives, as well as an IED “minefield” and 1,000 non-electric detonators.

The FARC and ELN use improvised AP mines to protect their camp sites, to slow down advances of the enemy, to protect arms caches or field hospitals and for ambushing the enemy. It is also said that the FARC protect their coca fields with improvised AP mines, but the FARC do not grow coca fields themselves; small farmers grow coca fields and they sometimes protect their fields against theft and/or eradication. Small farmers sell their coca paste to the FARC. The FARC does occasionally run Cocaine-HCL labs and these are usually protected with improvised AP mines.

AP Mine Clearance

Mine clearance has been successfully conducted by the military’s mobile EOD teams and their humanitarian mine clearance platoons. There are also reports that at the request of local communities, NSAGs are occasionally clearing mines they have laid. The Government of Colombia recognises the requirement for a massive expansion of military clearance. Its present force is 25 platoons, while 49 civilian platoons to address the mines problem have also been introduced. In 2010 Colombia passed a law allowing local and international non-government organisations (NGOs) to carry out demining operations employing civilians. The Instancia Interinstitucional de Desminado Humanitario is coordinating and monitoring quality of demining teams and operations in Colombia. The UK HALO Trust has now passed a significant milestone in deploying civilian clearance teams in support of Colombia's Mine Ban Treaty obligations and they look forward to further expanding the support offered by their clearance and survey teams. Other Foreign humanitarian demining groups like GICHD from Switzerland, DDG from Denmark and NPAID from Norway heave started operations in Colombia too.

1 comment:

  1. The real victims in all of this have been the "campesinos" who have been prevented from having a normal and productive life with an expectancy of peaceful existence. Too frequently they were caught between all of these warring factions.