Colombia’s government and the leftist rebel movement have announced an agreement to remove landmines from the battlefield in a sign of progress in their two-year-old peace talks being held in Cuba.
The announcement on Saturday came at the end of the latest round of talks between government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) aimed at lowering the intensity of a conflict that has lasted a half century.
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebels issued a statement in which they agreed to ask the organisation Norwegian People’s Aid to coordinate a project to clear the battlefields of landmines, improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance, the Reuters reported.
Colombia is one of the most mined countries in the world, and nearly 11,000 Colombians including 1,101 children have been killed or wounded since 1990, according to government data.
Latin America’s longest war has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions over 50 years.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) ranked the South American country second behind Afghanistan for the highest number of children killed or wounded by landmines, with 57 child casualties in 2013.
Under the agreement, the Colombian army battalion that specialises 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 FARC and affected communities.
“The proposal for demining is a first step, but a giant step toward making peace,” said Humberto de La Calle, spokesman for the government.
Ivan Marquez, the chief negotiator for the rebel movement, said the deal would help remove unexploded mines – explosives that “have taken the dreams of thousands of people living in our country”.
The Colombian president praised the deal. “I want to congratulate our negotiators and I appreciate this step taken by the FARC,” he said in Bogota, the AP news agency reported.
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 on March 17.