U.N. clearing land mines in Guatemala
February 23, 1998
Web posted at: 11:31 p.m. EST (0431 GMT)
From Correspondent Ulrika Nilsson
IXCAN, Guatemala (CNN) -- The United Nations has launched a program to clear deadly land mines left over from Guatemala's 36-year civil war.
The program is part of the peace accord signed in 1996 that ended the war. The agreement was signed more than a year ago, but the land mines are deadly remnants lying underneath the Guatemalan soil.
The most recent victims were two peasants killed when a land mine exploded while they were tending their cattle in the Ixcan jungle.
The U.N. program hopes to put an end to these accidental deaths, but activists say the program is taking too long to clear the fields.
"We've asked that someone clear the minds since last year," said Juan Mateo Pascual, an anti-land mine activist. "They've come now, when they have realized what happened ... that two of our friends lost their lives."
The U.N. program is receiving help from former members of the National Revolutionary Unity to find and remove land mines from battle zones. But there are many devices left, too many for the ex-guerrillas to remember.
"Sometimes, those who set up the minefields ended up losing control of them, possibly because a rival group arrived and they had to run away ... or the person who set the explosives died," said Sergio Vasquez, a spokesman for volunteer firefighters in Ixcan.
The volunteer firefighters hope to prevent more deaths through an educational program that teaches children and local residents land mine awareness.
Clearing the mines is a monumental task, but the United Nations and the Guatemalan government hope the children of Guatemala will reap the benefits in the future.