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New Zealand Pledges $1 Million to Help Clear Landmines in Colombia


FILE - Hundreds of mines were disabled by the Colombian army in Buga, Valle del Cauca province, as part of the 1997 mine ban treaty signed in Canada, Aug. 31, 2004.

New Zealand is giving $1 million in aid to help clear landmines in Colombia, one of the most mine-scarred countries in the world after a half century of war, officials said on Friday.

Most of the funds will go to a two-year program by the British-based Halo Trust, a demining group, said New Zealand's foreign minister, Gerry Brownlee, in a statement.

The balance will go to the United Nations in support of mine clearance in Colombia.

Getting rid of mines is seen as critical for the South American nation of mountains and jungles to recover from its civil war, allowing for rural development and for millions of displaced people to return home safely.

"More than 50 years of conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government has left the country heavily littered with mines, posing significant safety risk for its citizens," said Brownlee, who was in Colombia attending the Pacific Alliance summit.

Colombia's FARC rebels handed over all their weapons this week to the U.N. as part of a peace deal signed last year with the government.

The move helps pave the way to expand mine clearance as security improves in areas once under rebel control.

"Colombia's historic peace agreement has seen about 200 new municipalities become eligible for demining assistance but this requires a substantial increase in resources," Brownlee said.

After Cambodia and Afghanistan, Colombia has had the third highest number of landmine casualties, with more than 11,000 people killed or injured by landmines since 1990, government figures show.

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, this year pledged to make the country free of mines by 2021.

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