Colombian Government’s stockpiles of landmines is destroyed
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA, October 24, 2004 - Meeting the commitment assumed in the Ottawa Convention, the Colombian Government today destroyed its last arsenal of anti-personnel mines, in a ceremony held simultaneously in Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar and in the northern city of Barranquilla, where more than 6,800 mines belonging to the Armed Forces were destroyed.
The ceremony was attended by the President of the Republic, Alvaro Uribe Vélez, the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, Queen Noor of Jordan, the military high command, the ministerial cabinet, the high-ranking hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the diplomatic corps, and representatives of the United Nations. UN participants included Nils Kastberg, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Manuel Manrique, UNICEF Representative for Colombia and Venezuela, and Alfredo Witschi-Certari, representative of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, who delivered a message of support for this action for peace, sent by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Today, Colombia is the fourth country in the world in number of anti-personnel mine victims, after Chechnya, Afghanistan and Angola, and the only country to destroy its arsenal of anti-personnel land mines (APM) amid ongoing armed confrontation. One of the greatest challenges for action against mines in Colombia is the internal armed conflict, which has intensified in recent years.
APMs and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) represent an increasing problem for this South American country. To date, 542 of the country’s 1,119 municipalities – and 31 of its 32 departments – have suffered the consequences of anti-personnel mines. These artefacts are found in schools, along rural roads, and around other social goods protected by International Humanitarian Law. Official government statistics show a total of 3,142 victims (between January 1990 and September 2004). However, experts agree that there has been a significant under-registration.
At least 37 per cent of all victims registered are civilians, and of these almost 40% are children. The effect that APM and UXO have on children is especially nefarious. The few that survive must submit to multiple surgical surgeries and have to change their prostheses as they grow, complicating their processes of physical and emotional development, at the same time causing considerable expense to their families and the health system
One of the greatest obstacles to humanitarian action against anti-personnel mines in Colombia is the continued use of these arms by the illegal armed groups. UNICEF believes that it is possible to prevent accidents and provide attention to victims as a humanitarian imperative.
UNICEF implements educative activities covering accident prevention, attention for mine victims, and institutional strengthening for application of the Ottawa Convention.
At the same time, the current Government has strengthened its actions against the Mines, and is taking steps to meet the commitments assumed upon signing the Ottawa Convention. The presence of Queen Noor, the Regional Director of UNICEF and many local personalities is intended to provide visibility to the destruction of the 23 thousand remaining anti-personnel mines in the hands of the Colombian army.
As part of her agenda in Colombia, Queen Noor will travel to the municipality of Silvia in the southern department of Cauca, one of the areas most heavily affected by the presence of APMs and UXO. There she will meet with Guambiano and Paez indigenous groups to learn about the Humanitarian Action Project for the Prevention of Accidents with Anti-personnel Mines and Abandoned Unexploded Ordnance. That project has technical and financial support from UNICEF, and is being implemented in partnership with the Foundation for Development of Democracy (FUNDEMOS) and the Office of the Governor of Cauca.