Colombia’s anti-landmine fight continues full throttle

BOGOTA, Colombia 
Colombia´s President Ivan Duque declared 75 municipalities as landmine free territories on Thursday. 
The announcement was made as Colombia undergoes a complex social and political climate and many regions experience a resurgence of armed conflict with the use of landmines as weapons.  
Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez, the Minister of Defense Guillermo Botero, the Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos and ambassadors from different countries attended an event where the announcement was made as part of International Mine Awareness Day.
With these municipalities, a total of 346 territorial entities have been declared mine-free, a number that represents 50% of the estimated affected municipalities in Colombia.
The International Committee of the Red Cross reported 221 landmine victims in 2018. Compared to the 57 victims recorded in 2017, it is almost a 300% increase. 
According to director of the Colombian Campaign against Landmines, Alvaro Jimenez, this rise is due to the suspension of peace dialogue with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, which use mines as a war tactic, and non-political groups associated with drug trafficking. 
“Armed groups are trying to prevent military or police forces from accessing some territories and intimidate workers that are executing forced eradication programs," Jimenez said. 
Some of the most affected departments due to landmines are Cordoba, Choco, Norte de Santander, Guaviare, Caqueta, Meta, Nariño, Cauca and Arauca.  
Reparations for victims 
Colombian authorities have registered 11,435 victims of anti-personnel mines. Of them, 6,984 are military personnel and 4,451 are civilians. 
Around 1,000 victims have received compensation, according to the Unit for Victims, the government entity tasked with attention and reparation of communities directly affected by armed conflict.  
Even though the numbers of victims increased in 2018, it is far from the figures registered during the worst years of conflict, when in one year up to 1,300 people were affected or killed by landmines. 
“Colombia has improved its fight against landmines,” says Jimenez. He explains that the achievements of the last four years are the result of the peace agreement signed in 2016 with Colombia's largest rebel group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), the assistance of the international community, and the access of demining organizations to territories previously controlled by Farc guerrillas.  
The country has disappeared from the top places on international rankings of new victims of landmines, but there is still a long way to go for it to be a mine-free state.  
“Colombia adopted the Otawa convention that bestows upon countries the great responsibility of making all necessary efforts to root out landmines,” recalled Duque last Thursday. 
Within its international commitments, Colombia has the ambitious task of becoming a mine-free nation by 2021. To achieve this goal, it will not only need to continue demining territories, but deactivating the wars in which these explosives are used. 



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