Colombia’s request for an extension on the Mine Ban Treaty deadline for removing anti-personnel landmines from its territory is likely to be approved, according to the treaty’s secretariat.
Colombia on Monday formally asked for ten more years to complete the de-mining process, which was due to be finished by March 2011. The request was made on the first day of the Tenth Meeting of the States Parties to the Ottawa Convention to ban anti-personnel landmines, held in Geneva.
Kerry Brinkhert, director of the convention’s secretariat, told Colombia Reports that “there is a sense that Colombia’s request will be accepted.”
Brinkhert said that Colombia had demonstrated its commitment to the implementation of the treaty, which requires that all anti-personnel mines be removed from a country’s territory, by reporting to the conference that all such mines placed by state forces have now been cleared. “The fact that they did this in ten years is a real testament to their commitment,” said the official.
The convention will respond to Colombia’s request on December 3, and Brinkhert said that the country will likely be asked to report back on its progress in two to three years. The South American nation has submitted a “very detailed” plan for action over the next three years, said the official.
The “international community” appreciates Colombia’s “special circumstances,” according to Brinkhert. Colombia faces a more difficult situation than many other parties to the treaty as its conflict is ongoing, and illegal armed groups continue to plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Most other countries which face the challenge of de-mining have an easier task, as the mines come from more regular conflicts. This means they are more likely to be traditionally-produced models, which are easier to defuse, and there are more likely to be records of where the mines were placed.
Rosa Irene Rubio, interim director of the presidential program against anti-personnel landmines, told Colombia Reports after the request was submitted that the planting of mines by illegal armed groups, “without a pattern and without following any principles,” was one of the factors that made it difficult for Colombia to meet its commitment to the treaty.
“Mines used by groups operating outside the law are handmade, so they have different activation mechanisms, materials that are difficult to detect, different explosive charges and, not infrequently, illegal substances that are used to maximize the blast damage,” the government said in a statement.
In addition to the problem of removing existing mines, the area in Colombia “contaminated” by the explosives continues to increase, says Brinkhert. The county’s extension request included a commitment to investigate new methodologies for detecting and removing mines.
According to Rubio, as well as clearing mines planted by armed forces the government has made progress with removing mines planted by illegal armed groups, sweeping 320,000 square meters and destroying around 600 explosive devices. This has allowed the return of more than 3,900 people to their lands, she says.
Bogota estimates that 50.5 million square meters of mined territory remain, in 601 of the country’s more than 1,100 municipalities. The most heavily-mined are in the departments of Caqueta, Antioquia, Meta, and Bolivar, according to Rubio.
There are no sanctions for failing to meet the deadline, and Colombia can request a further extension if necessary.
One of the biggest challenges for Colombia, according to Brinkhert, is to increase its knowledge of which areas of the country are mined, and which are not, so that the latter can be declared safe.
The secretariat head praised Colombia for its financial contribution to combating the problem of landmines, saying that it has spent its own funds on the process rather than relying entirely on outside support.
The Ottawa Convention was signed in 1997, and came into effect in 1999. Some 156 countries have ratified or acceded to the agreement, which commits signatories to destroy all stockpiled landmines, ban production of new ones, clear mined areas, and provide support to victims of mines. All countries in the Americas have joined, except the U.S. and Cuba.
The second review conference was held in Cartagena, Colombia, in November and December 2009. The Colombian government said before the Cartagena conference that the country had the highest number of landmine victims in the world.
Rubio said Monday that the country had a total of 8,998 landmine victims between 1990 and October 2010, of which 38% were civilians and 62% were members of the armed forces. There have been a total of 147 civilians and 211 military casualties so far in 2010.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines said last week that the number of landmine victims in Colombia decreased in 2009, with some 674 casualties, of which 117 died and 557 were injured. This marked a 13% decline from 2008.
Chad, Denmark, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Zimbabwe also requested extensions to their de-mining deadlines Monday.