SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In Colombia, a decades-long conflict between FARC guerrillas and the government might be officially over. But the country still grapples with a nasty legacy of that war - landmines. Farmers are afraid to return to some fields. Parents worry about children stumbling into hidden explosives. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports how mines continue to cast a pall over daily life there.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Kevin Canas Quitumbo was 13 years old when shrapnel from a landmine ripped through his left leg, up his torso and all the way to the back of his skull. He's 18 years old now, and doctors are still working to repair the damage.
KEVIN CANAS QUITUMBO: (Through Interpreter) In January and February, I have to go back. The doctors are going to put additional metal rods in my foot.
BEAUBIEN: Canas lives in the southwestern Colombian region of Cauca. He was at a protest for indigenous rights with a group of friends from school when he stepped on the mine. The boys wanted to get to the front of the march, so they ran off the main road to cut to the head of the rally.
CANAS: (Through interpreter) After the accident, I was in the hospital for four months.
BEAUBIEN: He was in a coma and had infections in several parts of his body. It's not clear who planted the mine that exploded under Canas. But more than 50 years of fighting between heavily armed, well-financed rebels and the government has left mines strewn all over Colombia. According to government statistics, more than 11,000 people in Colombia have been injured by landmines over the last decade. Nearly 2,300 of those blasts were fatal.
For Kevin Canas, the damage from the mine goes far beyond his physical wounds. The months in the hospital set him back significantly at school. He now works days on a construction site and is trying to finish high school at night. The explosion, he says, also killed his boyhood dream.
CANAS: (Through interpreter) The hardest thing is that I can't go back to playing soccer.
BEAUBIEN: He still avidly supports Atletico Nacional, a professional team in Medellin. But he walks with a significant limp and struggles to fully straighten his left leg.
Since the peace accord with the FARC was signed last year, efforts are ramping up to clear what could be tens of thousands of landmines that still litter the Colombian countryside. Handicap International is one of the groups setting up de-mining teams. Currently a team from the nonprofit is clearing a suspected minefield in the town of La Venta, not far from where Canas lives. Aderito Ismael, who heads up de-mining for Handicap International in Colombia, says the time period right after a peace deal is often one of the most dangerous when it comes to landmines.
ADERITO ISMAEL: When they were finished, the number of accidents seems to be increasing because people just go back for new land or land that they don't have knowledge about.
BEAUBIEN: He's originally from Mozambique and has seen this happen in many post-conflict zones around the world.
(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE RUNNING)
BEAUBIEN: Near a busy road in La Venta, the Handicap International de-miners in bulky blast-proof suits are methodically removing the top five inches of dirt from an overgrown lot. Two years ago, a man was injured by an explosive here, and this team found another bomb buried in the soil. Maria Yolanda Mosqueda, who lives across the street from the lot, says the place terrifies her and she wouldn't risk walking through there.
MARIA YOLANDA MOSQUEDA: (Speaking Spanish).
BEAUBIEN: "Before the lot was fenced off, kids used to cut through it on their way to school. Once this patch of land is finally declared mine-free," Mosqueda says, "it will be as if a weight is lifted from the whole community."
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Cauca, Colombia.
(SOUNDBITE OF AROVANE AND HIOR CHRONIK'S "EIN KLEINES LIED")
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