Colombia’s government and the country’s biggest rebel group, the FARC, announced an agreement Saturday to begin a pilot program for removing land mines as part of efforts to lower the intensity of a conflict that has lasted a half century.
The announcement came at the end of the latest round of peace talks that began in Cuba’s capital in November 2012.
Under the agreement, the Colombian army battalion that specializes in removing mines will clear explosives at a selected number of sites while working under the supervision of a team that will include two members each from the government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and affected communities.
“Our main goal is that these talks put an end to the conflict, avoid future victims. Because of this the proposal for demining is a first step, but a giant step toward making peace,” said Humberto de La Calle, spokesman for the government.
Press conference Humberto de la Calle
“Ivan Marquez,” the chief negotiator for the rebel movement known as the FARC, said the deal would help remove unexploded mines — explosives that “have taken the dreams of thousands of people living in our country.”
Government figures say land mines caused 11,043 deaths and injuries to its people over the past 15 years. Of those, 4,226 were civilians.
Landmine victims per year
Landmine victims per state
The United Nations applauded the deal in a press release.
The international body said it hoped that “this will be the first of a series of measures to de-escalate the confrontation … it will have an almost immediate effect on the improvement on the conditions of life, work and mobility of hundreds of thousands of Colombians.”
In previous talks, the government and rebels have reached partial agreements on agricultural issues, political participation and combating drug trafficking.
Negotiators are now focusing on reparations for victims of the violence, the surrender of weapons and reintegration of rebels into civilian life.
The new round of talks is scheduled to begin March 17.