Peace and Reconciliation in Colombia: Navigating the Minefields

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So, “Y” This Post about Colombia?

The first time I lived outside of Norway was in the mid-’80s, when I was posted to Chile. At that time, Chile was governed by a military junta that completely disregarded democratic principles, violated human rights, and killed or imprisoned human rights defenders and members of the political opposition. Since then, Chile has developed into a peaceful, prosperous nation, and Norway has been actively engaged in many of its neighboring countries and governments in Latin America.

One such country is Colombia, where Norway has developed particularly good relations with President Santos’ government. A primary reason for this is our efforts to address the armed conflict in Colombia, which has lasted more than 50 years, making it the longest-running armed conflict in Latin America’s history. The conflict has had serious humanitarian consequences and caused terrible suffering among the civilian population. More than 250,000 people have been killed and more than 6 million Colombians are refugees or internally displaced in their own country.

“Y” Norway and Colombia?

Even though the distance between Norway and Colombia is great, Norway has played a significant role in peace and reconciliation efforts in Colombia for decades, and has taken part in the initiative to promote dialogue between guerrilla groups and the Colombian government. We have made a difference, which is what Norway’s foreign policy is all about.

Let me tell you what we are doing.

Formal peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the insurgents –the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (formally known by its Spanish acronym, FARC) – were initiated in Oslo four years ago, after months of secret exploratory talks in Havana.

Since then, Norway and Cuba have facilitated the peace process. Dedicated colleagues of mine have travelled between Oslo, Cuba and Colombia doing their utmost to help bring about a political solution to the conflict.

If everything goes as planned, a peace agreement could be signed in a couple of months. This agreement would represent a huge political success for all parties involved and, more important, bring about the opportunity to reunite a society torn apart by conflict.

Both national and international support for peace are still essential, as is international support for ensuring the safety of Colombian civilians so that the country may prosper.

“Y” Is International Support Needed?

The cost of rebuilding basic infrastructure such as schools, healthcare facilities and roads is high. Another major challenge Colombia faces is landmines and explosive remnants of the war. Landmines kill or maim thousands of people every year. This restricts Colombia’s prospects for economic growth and limits the country’s ability to ensure security for its citizens.

The U.S. and Norway have jointly launched an initiative whose goal is for Colombia to be “mine-impact free” by 2021. President Obama announced Feb. 4 the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia, which called on the international donor community to provide funding, technical support and resources to achieve these goals. President Santos and Norwegian Foreign Minister Brende joined President Obama and Secretary Kerry in the White House for the announcement. The ceremony was very encouraging and showed strong commitment to Colombia and its people.

Norway has pledged US$20 million over the next three years to the demining initiative, and together with the United States, urges other countries to follow suit. Many other countries have already pledged support, and I believe we have a good chance of reaching this 2021 goal.

“Y” Norway Can Make a Difference

Norway has played a leading role in demining initiatives for many, many years. We have acquired a lot of experience and have been successful in aiding the Balkans and Afghanistan. Today, we are turning our resources toward similar operations in Colombia.

Throughout the peace negotiations, Norway has supported a joint pilot demining project in Colombia by working closely with both the Colombian government and the FARC. This partnership has contributed to developing trust between the parties and the Colombian people, stressing that the devastating humanitarian violations resulting from the conflict are being taken seriously.

Norway will continue to be a strong supporter of and friend to the Colombian people. I wish my Norwegian colleagues good luck in their work with Colombia, in their efforts to finalize the peace process, and in clearing the landmines.

– K.R.A.

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