More than 11,000 people have been injured or killed by landmines in Colombia since 1990, making Afghanistan the only nation with a higher number of landmine victims.
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Talk Media News) – The United States will provide Colombia with $10 million to help clear the South American country of landmines, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Monday.
Carter informed Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas of the aid by phone while en route to a biannual meeting of Western Hemisphere defense heads, hosted in the Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago.
More than 11,000 people have been injured or killed by landmines in Colombia since 1990, according to figures from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition, making Afghanistan the only nation with a higher number of landmine victims.
Most of the mines and other unexploded ordnance were scattered by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) over the last 50 years of war, leaving 30 of the country’s 32 departments still affected.
During peace accord negotiations in March, FARC and the government reached an agreement to rid the country of landmines by 2021 at a cost of more than $100 million.
The peace deal signed late last month between the government and FARC commanders enshrined a bilateral ceasefire between the two parties and created a pathway for rebels to reenter civilian and political life.
President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono have indicated that they plan to continue the ceasefire, and the deal’s failure sent them back to the negotiating table.
“It’s obviously up to Colombians to try to come to some new consensus that will allow the peace process to be finalized, and the United States stands ready to help that effort in any way the Colombian Government wishes us to do so,” an unnamed senior U.S. State Department said last week.
The international community stood strong behind the peace process, with President Santos being awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize last week in recognition of “his resolute efforts” to bring the country’s civil war to an end.
Carter said he thanked Defense Minister Villegas during the phone call for Colombia’s role in regional and global peacekeeping, and said that Colombia is in discussions about assuming a role within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Villegas will not be present at the meeting, tending instead to the peace negotiations and sending his vice minister in his place.
Carter initially had planned to visit Colombia this week but scrapped the trip amid concerns about Hurricane Matthew, including its impact on military facilities along the East Coast of the U.S. and military engagement in recovery efforts.
On Tuesday, the Colombian government and National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s second largest rebel group, said that formal peace negotiations would begin in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito on Oct. 27.