TODAY COLOMBIA – Clearing Colombia of landmines is likely to take at least 10 years, and cost more than $200 million, the government said days after announcing rebel group FARC would help in landmine removal in the event of peace.
President Juan Manuel Santos, the High Commissioner for Peace Sergio Jaramillo and Deputy Minister of Post-Conflict Oscar Naranjo spoke at the institutional program “Agenda Colombia” on the scope of the agreement for demining which was reached with the FARC announced on Saturday.
“I believe that in 2025, we will be able to say that Colombia is free of mines. This is an immense goal, because what we are experiencing today, the opposite, is that Colombia is one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world,” said the president.
The governmental peace talks negotiation team, together with the guerrillas, announced on Saturday that both parties would work together to clear the country of landmines that the FARC and other groups have been laying for decades.
Over the past 15 years, government figures say mines have caused 11,043 deaths and injuries to its people. Of those, 4,226 were civilians.
The estimation of more than 688 affected municipalities creates the staggering figure that 63% of Colombian territory is currently at some degree of risk due to the presence of landmines.
Without any doubt, the agreement announced at the end of the latest round of peace talks between Colombian government and the rebel group is groundbreaking progress towards the reduction of such figures.
“Those who do not want to see that this is what the country needs, nothing will convince,” Santos explained, noting that it is an agreement “that everyone should be applauding.”
However, with at least 688 municipalities under threat by the presence of landmines, the task is of huge proportion.
The first step in the lengthy process is to map out the zones threatened by the artifacts of war.
At the conference, High Commissioner Jaramillo informed that members of the FARC with knowledge of the landmines will be able to lead those searching directly to their locations.
However, a distinct hurdle is the fact that often those who buried the mines have already died, leaving no information as to their location.
The process will therefore require the cross-referencing of many different sources, before applying the information to the geographical reality of the terrain.
It will then be necessary to isolate the areas identified as containing mines, where an excavation process can begin. For a section of 4 to 10 square meters, for example, the procedure can take more than 24 hours. This does not always mean that the landmines have been effectively deactivated.
Taking into account “the difficulty of demining a square kilometer, the time is takes and the risk it incurs; of course there will be a delay,” Santos explained.
“The difficulty of demining a square kilometer, the time is takes and the risk it incurs; of course there will be a delay,” Juan Manuel Santos
At this time, Colombia has 500 members of the military fully trained to perform the demining procedure. However, with such a huge scale of operation, the aim is to increase this number to at least 10,000 trained soldiers within a few years.
It is therefore no surprise that the cost of the demining process is vast.
Naranjo, also a negotiator at the FARC talks, is in charge of the designing the necessary policies to put into action the demining agreement announced on Saturday in Havana. He emphasized that it is not a simple issue to perform.
“It will cost millions of dollars and we will need at least two decades,” said the post-conflict minister.
Naranjo emphasized the importance that the operation begins as soon as possible, stating that “when a definitive ceasefire occurs, sadly the return of people to their land causes accidents and so we want to get ahead.”
In reference to criticism of the timescale and cost of the demining process, Santos said that “a terrible cost in lives, or cost in money, whatever you want. How can people protest because we have agreed to start demining the country?”
The Santos administration has been negotiating peace with the FARC since November 2012. Following agreements on rural reform, political participation and drug trafficking, the warring parties are currently working towards a bilateral ceasefire and negotiating the reparation of the 7 million victims generated by the half-a-century war.