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Celebrating the International Day for Mine Awareness in Colombia

2017 is a year of remarkably positive change for Colombia.

Minister Bibeau announces Canada’s new project with The HALO Trust in July 2016 and meets with members of HALO’s local staff in the Colombian department of Meta.

Canada works with The Halo Trust to support humanitarian demining in Colombia. (photo credit: The Halo Trust)

After more than fifty years of internal armed conflict and four years of negotiations in Cuba between the government and the largest guerilla group (FARC), the country is finally taking its first steps at peace. An estimated 6,500 leftist rebels are laying down their arms, and the provisions of the 2016 peace accord are being implemented on the ground, promising a new era of peace and prosperity for the country.

Many agree that one of Colombia’s most pressing post-conflict challenges will be to clear the anti-personnel mines and unexploded artefacts that clutter the country’s mountains and countryside. Colombia is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world. The Colombian government has registered more than 11,400 people injured or killed by landmines since 1990, with more than 1,600 victims in the last five years alone. Landmine accidents affect children, women and men indiscriminately in some of Colombia’s poorest rural communities.

Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia and winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, has made demining one of his top priorities. “A complete peace is not possible in a country with landmines,” he said. “A territory with anti-personnel mines is a territory that’s sterile — it’s one without a future.” Recognizing that demining “is an expensive, dangerous but absolutely necessary job,” he promised to clear the country of antipersonnel mines entirely by 2021, in line with Colombia’s commitment under the Mine Ban Convention (commonly known as the “Ottawa Treaty”), negotiated in Ottawa 20 years ago.

Canada has a long history of supporting mine action worldwide. In Colombia, Canada was one of the first countries to provide assistance for mine risk education, victim’s assistance and humanitarian demining, working with organizations such as Handicap International, UNICEF, UNMAS and the Organization of American States. In July 2016, The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, traveled to Colombia to announce a new $12.5 million project with The HALO Trust to support humanitarian demining, as part of Canada’s overall support for peace.

The project is one of the largest humanitarian demining projects ever funded by Canada. It is supporting the training of workers from local communities, including women and former combatants, to detect and deactivate the explosive devices in ten regions of Colombia. According to Chris Ince, Program Manager for The HALO Trust in Colombia: "Canada’s generous contribution will improve lives and security by preventing mine accidents and restoring access to land, markets and public services. It will also enable more internally displaced people to return to their land, and improve stability in the region through the employment of victims of the conflict and demobilized combatants.”

On April 4th, the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, let’s celebrate our privilege, as Canadians, to live in a country free of landmine contamination. We can be proud of the support that Canada is providing to alleviate the suffering caused by anti-personnel landmines in Colombia and around the world.

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