Latin America & Caribbean

Demining Colombia 'will take a generation'

Colombia's Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas speaks during an interview with AFP in Bogota on 28 December, 2015. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Luis Carlos Villegas said landmines were a huge problem facing Colombia

Landmines are the biggest challenge facing post-conflict Colombia, the country's Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas has said.

"Demining Colombia will take a generation, tens of thousands of specialists and lots of international aid," he told AFP news agency.

Colombian soldiers and members of the country's largest rebel group, Farc, are working together to clear mines.

But Mr Villegas said it would take many more specialists to finish the task.

After more than five decades of internal conflict, Colombia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Currently, there are 600 people trained to clear mines in Colombia

It has the third-highest incidence of accidents caused by landmines and improvised explosive devices (IED). Only Afghanistan and Cambodia have more.

While the Farc rebel group is currently engaged in peace talks with the government, a smaller left-wing rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), continues to fight.

Mines are also being planted by drug gangs looking to protect their illicit crops from counternarcotics police.

Mr Villegas said the Colombian army was preparing a large-scale programme to train soldiers to clear mines.

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Media captionBBC Mundo's Natalio Cosoy spoke to Farc rebel Hector Perez about the joint demining project between the guerrillas and Colombian soldiers

He said the plan was to bring the number of trained demining personnel up from 600 to 10,000 by mid-2016.

Under an agreement reached between government negotiators and Farc rebels at peace talks in Havana, Cuba, soldiers and guerrilla fighters are already working together in a pilot project to clear mines.

But the minister told AFP that many more trained specialists would be needed.

More than 220,000 people are estimated to have died in the past five decades of armed conflict in Colombia.

The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor says 2,000 of those were killed by landmines and IED.

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