Vienna, 4 December 2009 – “Seven people have been severely injured by land mines in Colombia this past week alone,” stated Colombia’s Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón in his welcome address to the opening of the 10-year Ottawa Conference in Cartagena (Columbia). Unfortunately, mine victims are part of Colombia’s everyday life, with more than 750 victims last year. Colombia is heavily affected by land mines placed by illegal armed groups. The left-leaning FARC movement, in particular, plants land mines in an attempt to protect its coca plantations from the Colombian military forces. The large number of injured civilians sadly makes Colombia a leader in the victims statistics.
“If we want to succeed in the fight against land mines, then we have to start at the roots,” emphasised Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger. “Progress in the fight against land mines is closely related to progress in the fight against cultivation of drug-producing plants. We cannot close our eyes to this, least of all in the interests of our young people. Drugs are a global problem,” Spindelegger continued.
The Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is carrying out a programme in Antioquia, Colombia’s most severely mine-contaminated region, which is supported by Austria, among others, and which is to enable coca farmers to change to legal crops such as cacao. In less than three years, about 18% of Antioquia’s coca production areas were turned back into legal cultivation areas. “This is also a blow for those groups which are responsible for Colombia’s mine problem,” stated Spindelegger. The project is so successful that the Foreign Ministry is now examining the feasibility of carrying out a project of its own in Colombia in close cooperation with UNODC.
“We have a global responsibility in the fight against drugs and land mines. With our commitment in Colombia, together with our partners, we stand a chance of curbing drug plant cultivation and thus getting to the root of the mine problem,” concluded the Foreign Minister.
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