QUITO – Colombia’s government and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced on Thursday that they would launch a process aimed at developing a pilot humanitarian program to remove landmines and military ordnance from former conflict areas.
The chief negotiators of the Colombian government, Juan Camilo Restrepo, and the ELN, Pablo Beltran, made the announcement at the end of the first round of peace talks, which were held in the Ecuadorian capital. Talks will resume in Quito in May.
In a statement, the government recalled that kidnapping and the planting of landmines – often to stymie repair work following attacks on the Caño Limon-Coveñas oil pipeline – were prohibited under international humanitarian law (IHL).
Beltran said the ELN did not recognize Colombian law but added that IHL constituted universal legislation that was valid for both parties.
Referring to the humanitarian demining, Restrepo said the technical and operational details would need to be hammered out in the coming weeks but underscored the importance of the political agreement reached during the talks on that issue.
Landmine casualties are among the most “unbearably sad issues in the history of the conflict in Colombia,” Restrepo said, adding that at times it is difficult to be certain where they are situated and that locating and deactivating them is one of the tasks in Colombia’s post-conflict era that will require the most time and care.
Beltran said for his part that local communities also would participate in the demining efforts and noted that the military’s unexploded ordnance also needed to be removed.
Therefore, “a problem caused by both sides will be corrected,” he added.
Talks with the ELN follow the signing of a peace accord last year with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.