CALI, Colombia - An explosives detection dog of the Colombian Military died after saving 30 soldiers from being victims of an anti-personnel mine in a rural area of the municipality of Suarez, in the southwest of the country, according to military sources.
Azabache, a trained canine taking part in various operations of the Third Army Division over the past three years, was severely injured by the explosion of a mine Wednesday while moving alongside a group of soldiers in the small village Patio Bonito, in the department of Cauca.
The explosion alerted the soldiers, who immediately rushed to aid Azabache and provided first-aid before he was taken by helicopter to a veterinary center in Cali.
According to veterinarians of the Third Army Division, the explosion caused internal injuries which led to the death of the canine, who was two years short of reaching his retirement and ending his military career.
"As for any of our soldiers, we feel great remorse over the death of Azabache, who had managed to locate a great quantity of explosives during his three years of work in the institution," said the commander of the Third Division, General Luis Rojas.
The general noted that the team which Azabache belonged to was in an area where drug gangs have influence.
The canine's guide, soldier Victor Betancourt, conveyed the news to his superiors in a short message by radio.
The canine stood out among 450 other canines which form part of the bomb detecting team of the Third Division and it was already highly praised as it had just saved them last Tuesday from two anti-personnel mines.
Azabache's funeral this Thursday was held with a military ceremony and he was buried by the soldiers he protected in the vicinity of the command post of the Apolo Task Force in Cauca.
In Colombia, antipersonnel mines and other explosive devices used in the armed conflict that has been ongoing for more than five decades have caused up to 11,800 deaths or injured during the past 25 years, according to figures from the NGO Colombian Campaign against Mines (CCCM).
Although there is no official estimate on the numbers of explosive devices planted, the government estimates that demining would take at least a decade.
According to CCCM, the cost to demine a square meter is around $1,000; compared to $1.20 it costs to produce a mine.