Demining the mountains in Colombia

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‘Cooperation between old enemies is at the heart of this IcSP project’

Demining the mountains in Colombia

An IcSP-funded project to remove deadly landmines in Colombia shows that communities can overcome the legacy of terrible and divisive conflict and is a powerful example for others to follow.

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Colombia has seen more than 50 years of armed conflict that has left eight million people dead, displaced or wounded. But in 2016 a deal was reached between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which aimed to lead to a ceasefire, and ultimately peace, between the two parties.

The biggest challenge in the negotiating process was establishing trust. This was especially true as Colombians continued to be killed and injured by some of the deadliest weapons of the conflict: landmines.

The EU’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) supported a key pilot project dealing with both of these issues at once. The initiative proved that all sides could work together on a practical issue that also brought clear benefits for local communities by removing the landmines and also building the trust necessary for a broader peace agreement.

Establishing links

The project took place in two remote villages in the most heavily mined areas of the country: El Orejón, in the Antioquia region, and Santa Helena, in the Meta region. The work began with joint analysis of the situation on the ground that involved the communities in El Orejón and Santa Helena allowing the project team to establish links to local authorities and building political trust for the work.

Government officials, Colombian soldiers and FARC members then worked together to identify and remove the mines. This joint effort was crucial. The combination of former FARC soldiers, with their knowledge of where mines had been planted, with the technical expertise of the government, was indispensable.

The project also provided new skills to the community, and improved its relationship with government institutions. These have now begun to provide socio-economic, health, education, victim and infrastructure assistance to what had been historically isolated areas.

Eugenia Holguín is the president of the local community association in El Orejón and says that the project has created a big impact: “It changed El Orejón. Now we have a new school, and a new community house as well. Now, we do not live in fear anymore.”

The IcSP-funded project was effectively an entry point for the Colombian state to reach communities who had considered themselves abandoned. And after the experience of the demining work, other government departments began making proposals for health care, education and infrastructure projects.

The work was also a technical success. It is helping to establish new standards in Colombia, including the use of mechanical demining equipment, the development of environmental rules, and procedures for medical evacuations.

More info

For more information, read the full project fiche by clicking here.