BOGOTA (AlertNet) - Colombia’s FARC rebels should take part in landmine clearance operations in an effort to help clear swathes of the country littered with mines and reduce the number of victims in the South American nation, a leading anti-landmine group has said.
According to the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines (CCCM), FARC rebels are responsible for planting most of the landmines and unexploded ordnance devices found across the country, mostly in rural areas, in its nearly 50-year war against the government.
The conflict has made Colombia one of the most mine-scarred countries in the world and the country has one of the world’s highest rates of landmine victims.
With peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels under way in the Cuban capital, Havana, anti-mines group CCCM is urging the two sides to reach a special agreement on mine clearance in the country’s southern province of Putumayo, a landmine ridden region and an epicenter of the country’s armed conflict.
“We’re in the middle of peace talks and we believe it’s a good opportunity, and it’s possible, for the government and FARC to reach a special agreement so that that the FARC can clear mines in some areas of Putumayo." Alvaro Jimenez, head of CCCM told AlertNet in a telephone interview.
“We’re calling on the negotiating table in Havana to put the mines problem at the centre of talks and take into special consideration those communities where landmines are a real problem,” he said. “Otherwise the suffering communities face will continue.”
“We’re proposing that the FARC contribute to humanitarian demining in specific areas of Putumayo, such as areas near schools, sources of water, along paths used by communities to get around and near health clinics and areas where children play,” he added.
So far neither side has responded to the proposal, Jimenez said.
Rebels often plant homemade mines as a cheap weapon of war to repel government troops, sowing them near state military bases and in the rural and jungle areas where they are active.
Drug-running FARC rebels also plant mines in and around fields of coca - the raw ingredient of cocaine - to protect their valuable crop.
Since 1990, nearly 10,300 Colombians have been either wounded or killed by landmines, of which 1,001 were children, according to latest government figures. In March alone, 17 boys and girls were victims of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Colombia’s rebel groups have been involved in humanitarian mine clearance in the past, according to CCCM. Back in 2005, members of the country’s second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), took part in demining operations in the northern province of Bolivar.
As a signatory of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, Colombia has agreed to clear the country of mines by 2021.
In recent years, demining in Colombia has focused on clearing mines placed by the state military around 35 of their bases to hold off rebel groups. Humanitarian mine-clearing is still in its early stages, and is largely confined to areas where government troops have secure territorial control.
If the Colombian government and FARC rebels reach a peace agreement, Colombia is likely to see the number of landmine victims fall significantly as demining operations are stepped up.