Colombian govt, FARC rebels begin clearing landmines

The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas have begun clearing the country`s landmines in a joint effort seen as a ray of hope in their stumbling peace negotiations, officials said Friday.

Bogotá: The Colombian government and FARC guerrillas have begun clearing the country`s landmines in a joint effort seen as a ray of hope in their stumbling peace negotiations, officials said Friday.

The pilot mine-clearing mission was carried out over seven days in the northern region of Antioquia, said officials from Cuba and Norway, the countries facilitating the talks.

The mission is the first step in a March agreement between the government and the Marxist guerrillas to disable all anti-personnel mines placed during half a century of civil war.

"This is a hopeful gesture for peace in Colombia," said FARC commander and peace negotiator Pastor Alape at the talks in Havana.

The goal of the preliminary mission was "to gather information to identify the areas that are really contaminated with mines," said Cuban diplomat Rodolfo Benitez.

Colombia has the second highest number of landmine casualties in the world after Afghanistan.

Since 1990, mines have killed more than 2,000 people and wounded over 9,000.

The peace talks in Cuba, which began in November 2012, have reached partial deals on several issues but have yet to yield a final accord.

Tensions have soared since the FARC killed 11 soldiers in an ambush last month, causing President Juan Manuel Santos to order new air strikes on rebel positions.

Some 40 FARC fighters have been killed since last week, including two high-ranking commanders.

The Colombian conflict has killed more than 200,000 people and uprooted more than six million since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia launched its guerrilla war in 1964.

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