As the Colombian government asks for more time to meet its legal obligation to clear old landmines, the number of people killed or wounded by mines climbed by 56 percent last year -- evidence that the South American nation's landmine nightmare is far from over.
On January 15, the Colombian government said it would ask for a delay to its commitment as part of the Ottawa Treaty to remove all anti-personnel landmines in the country, High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos announced at a press conference.
Ceballos said that landmines have been cleared from 113 municipalities under the administration of President Iván Duque. Landmine clearance was part of the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- FARC) rebel group, which planted massive amounts of explosive ordinance and landmines during its war with the government.
While demining efforts continue, the number of victims is rising. In 2019, landmines in Colombia killed or injured 344 people, up from 220 in 2018, El Espectador reported, citing Red Cross figures. The departments of Antioquia, Arauca, Chocó, Nariño and Norte de Santander were the most severely affected, with Norte de Santander recording 108 victims alone, according to the news outlet.
"Of the 290,000 square meters ... identified as having anti-personnel mines in 2018, around 20 percent were newly planted and found mainly in the department of Cauca," according to new figures from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor cited by El País.
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Demining efforts have been going poorly in Colombia for the last couple of years. But there is now real concern that the government's lack of attention to landmines is causing armed groups to begin manufacturing and using them again.
In May 2019, for example, a cache of 563 landmines was found in Riosucio, Antioquia, ready to be used by the Urabeños.
In addition, the high number of casualties from landmines seen in Norte de Santander in 2019 is more than likely the result of mines used during a furious turf war between the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación -- EPL) and National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional -- ELN).
Although Colombia signed the Ottawa Treaty in 2006 and vowed to have the entire country free of landmines by 2021, the government has since requested a delay until 2025. In November 2019, Colombia reported that a total of 391 municipalities were free of land mines, or 55 percent of the 713 municipalities scarred with the explosive devices, according to Colombian delegates to the Fourth Review Conference of the Ottawa Treaty, El País reported.
It seems unlikely that authorities will be able to rid all of Colombia's municipalities of landmines in the next four years. What's more, at a time when international supervision would be needed to ensure Colombia stays on track with its demining efforts, the United States is reversing its own restrictions on the production and use of landmines.