Following more than half a century of internal conflict between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejercito Publica (FARC-EP)1, a peace deal was reached between the two parties in December 2016. While other Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) continue to operate, or are conducting separate peace negotiations with the government, the FARC agreement marks a significant advance towards lasting peace in Colombia.
The presence of landmines and other Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) remains a priority for the Colombian Government in establishing and maintaining peace in the country. As of December 2018, there have been 11,688 recorded accidents caused by landmines with 171 recorded accidents recorded in 2018, triple that of 20172. The sharp rise in accidents is largely attributed to a returning displaced population to areas that were mined during the conflict, as well as potentially more recent laying of mines to protect illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking routes. This increased accident rate clearly demonstrates the importance of humanitarian mine clearance in Colombia.
Irish Aid signed a three year agreement in 2018 to support the Halo Trust project which aims to benefit rural communities impacted by the presence of landmines. By the end of 2018, a total of 12,972 square meters of hazardous land was cleared. 27% of the land cleared(3,546m2) is projected to be used for agriculture, 35% (4,494 m2) is projected to create safe access, and 38% (4,932 m2) is projected to be used for natural resources and 38% (4,932 m2) is projected to be used for natural resources.
Gonzalo Wesenlau Moreno15 (77) lives in the municipality of Lejanías, Meta and has lived on his farm, Finca Getemani, for the past 49 years.
“I have been a victim of the conflict here in Meta, I stopped working for fear that they would launch a cylinder (a form of IED used as a large mortar) at my house, a bomb that we didn’t know about, I was afraid to be on my land”. Though Gonzalo suffers from asthma, which limits his capacity to work, he is grateful for the humanitarian demining being carried out by HALO in Lejanías, “I am very pleased that HALO has come to this area. It is wonderful work they are doing and why they are here, giving freedom back to the community.”
Gonzalo was forced to leave his home in Cundinamarca, where he was born, as a result of the conflict and arrived in Meta when he was just 28 years old. He settled in a small community in an area called Cafetales, but the conflict followed him. The fighting in the region is over now, but the landmines and other explosives artefacts remain, posing a threat to Gonzalo and the other members of his community.
On his farm, Gonzalo used to grow coffee, plantain, corn, cassava and beans. However, the fear from landmines and his poor health has limited how and where he can grow his crops, “A few years ago, two people came to my house and told me not to go up the mountain because there are landmines there. A year later the army came and the exploded 20 mines, which I counted. About six months after that, two different men came to the house saying they had demobilized and they asked how many mines the military destroyed. They told me that they could not remember if they planted 25 or 27. There are still mines up there.”
The mined area that Gonzalo was referring to surrounds the only pathway that allows him access to drinking water. “I go up there every month. I have no choice. There is no other way to get water”. Thanks to funding from Irish Aid the minefield on Gonzalo’s land is now being cleared. To date, teams have cleared over 4,000m2 of hazardous land and have identified and safely destroyed four, potentially lethal, improvised landmines.
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