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Ex-foes Peru and Ecuador partner against a scourge of war: land mines

Some 41,000 land mines left over from a 1995 skirmish still litter the Peru-Ecuador border. The two nations' cooperative efforts to remove them is setting a global standard.

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Peruvian Army Maj. César Andía was too young in February 1995 to play an active part in the country's short but intense skirmish with neighboring Ecuador that took more than 400 lives on both sides.

But today, his job in the Army has him in the same trenches working on one of the final legacies of the conflict: the land mines on the Peruvian side of the rugged jungle that separates the two countries.

Andía heads a demining center that is in charge of training police officers and soldiers to eliminate an estimated 30,000 land mines, the last task left from the peace treaty Peru and Ecuador signed in 1998. His work involves dealing with one of the greatest scourges of modern war: land mines that continue to cause casualties long after conflicts draw to a close.

A model for other countries?

Indeed, Peru and Ecuador – the latter has around 11,000 mines of its own to eliminate – are just two of the 80 countries in which the United Nations reports that land mines have been used. And their work is setting a global standard. "There has never been anything quite like this in the world, and it will show that two countries that were once enemies can establish high levels of trust," says retired Air Force Col. Mario Espinoza, the technical secretary of Contraminas, the government's demining program.

Years ago, the extent of the land mine problem caught the attention of Princess Diana, who traveled to Angola and Bosnia to bring attention to the dangers, and the US-based International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its coordinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for their work bringing about an international ban.

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