The Miami Herald
December 3, 1998
Mitch leaves scattered mines
3 farmers killed since hurricane

             By JULIE WATSON
             Associated Press

             SANTA CATARINA, Honduras -- Calixto Carranza was planting watermelons
             in a field flooded by Hurricane Mitch when he spotted something in the dirt.

             After years of farming near the Nicaraguan border, he had seen his share of
             anti-personnel mines left over from civil wars in the 1980s -- small blue cans with
             metal sprouts out the top -- but this looked like a wheel rim.

             In fact, it was an anti-tank mine, much more powerful than the mines he would
             have recognized. When he poked it with the point of his machete, the blast threw
             him 80 feet into the air. His body fell to the ground in pieces, according to

             Workers spent years compiling maps of the tens of thousands of mines left across
             Central America. But flooding unleashed by Hurricane Mitch a month ago
             scattered many of those mines across fields and villages. Nobody knows where
             they wound up.

             ``We know the waters displaced land mines, but we don't know how much, which
             will probably mean it will take more money and time to finish sweeping areas,''
             said Colombian army Lt. Col. Guillermo Leal, chief of the Organization of
             American States' mission to clear Central America of land mines.

             Meanwhile, farmers worry that they may unwittingly become the detectors. Since
             the hurricane, land mines have killed three farmers and injured eight in Nicaragua
             and Honduras.

             ``We're terrified to return to the fields,'' said 17-year-old Genaro Funez, whose
             jaw was broken in the blast that killed his cousin, Carranza, in the town of Santa
             Catarina, 12 miles from the border.

             Carranza, 34, was working in the watermelon fields with 14 people Nov. 18. The
             explosion threw all of them to the ground. Another of Carranza's cousins,
             17-year-old Candido Ortiz, died half an hour later in the field, his side blown open
             from the blast.

             Help was nine miles away. Funez walked with a broken jaw. A 13-year-old boy
             stumbled through the mud and debris left by the hurricane, part of his forearm

             The others -- some cut by flying shrapnel -- followed, carrying 19-year-old
             Enrique Linares in a hammock because of his broken thigh.

             ``I'm in so much pain,'' Linares said at the hospital. ``But I don't have the money to
             buy pain medicine.''

             Despite a three-year effort to remove them, more than 70,000 land mines remain
             in the ground in Nicaragua. The hurricane significantly altered their locations,
             officials say.

             In central Nicaragua this week, the army began minesweeping outside the town of
             Muy Muy under a destroyed bridge, where officials found anti-personnel mines
             poking through the mud.

             In nearby Waslala, 16-year-old Bernardo Ocampo Gonzalez died Friday after a
             floating mine hit him and detonated as he bathed in a river.

             Nicaraguan officials planned to map out their strategy this week. Meanwhile, the
             OAS, with the help of U.S. experts, was using satellites to see how far the rivers
             could have carried the mines.

             No one knows how many land mines remain in Honduras, or who put them there
             as Nicaragua's civil war spilled across the border.

             Dr. Enrique Sandoval, director of Honduras' Hospital Sur near the border, treated
             more than 75 land mine victims from 1988 to 1994 under a government
             rehabilitation program. Most of the patients were young, poor farmers.

             ``We know this instrument of death still exists here a decade after a war that was
             never ours,'' he said. ``They were left here indiscriminately without any care about
             the suffering they could cause.''


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