NEW YORK – Countries all around the world, led by the United States and Norway, committed themselves on Sunday to supporting efforts to remove landmines in Colombia with an eye toward ridding that country of the weapons by 2021.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the start of a meeting on the issue held in a New York hotel that removing the landmines is an “essential” part of reconstruction after the achievement of a peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas.
The aim of the meeting is to garner additional support for the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia, launched this year by Washington and Oslo.
Kerry announced that the United States will contribution an additional $36 million to the effort, while his Norwegian counterpart, Borge Brende, said that his nation will contribute $22 million.
Also participating in the meeting is Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who said that the initiative “goes to the heart” and deals with “the most sensitive part” of what Colombia must do “to really have peace.”
Santos emphasized that, of all the atrocities and tragedies of the five-decade-long armed internal conflict, perhaps the issue of landmines is the “most horrible” and the one causing the “greatest suffering and impact.”
“It’s a challenge that, for me, is very important because it has torn me apart to see how disastrous the consequences of these mines are,” said the president.
Colombia is the world’s second-most-heavily-mined country, exceeded only by Afghanistan, and since 1990 more than 11,000 people have been killed or injured by these weapons.
The problem affects 700 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities and several dozen of them have begun the process of clearing the mines.
Last month, the Colombian government activated the world’s largest demining brigade, comprising some 2,500 members which will be expended next year to 10,000.
Joining the United States and Norway are about 20 other nations and entities such as the European Union, who will contribute financial and technical support for the demining effort.