September 3, 2009 / 5:26 PM / 10 years ago

Colombia wants former rebels to help clear mines

* Aims to use ex-rebels to clear mines

* Colombia to host Ottawa treaty review talks at year-end

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Colombia wants to use former rebels to remove landmines they laid to stop them from killing and maiming hundreds of people, the country’s vice president said.

"Those who fought five or 10 years ago and have been demobilised can help with reconstruction. It sends a good signal," vice president Francisco Santos told a news conference in Geneva on Thursday where he is attending a meeting on mines.

"It will send the message that those who put them there can help take them away," he added.

Some 67 civilians and members of Colombia’s armed forces were killed by mines between January and June this year, while another 306 were wounded, according to government statistics.

"Colombia is the country that still has the number one amount of landmine accidents in the world," Santos said, noting it had the highest number of reported landmine casualties.

The conservative government of President Alvaro Uribe has steadily reclaimed territory from the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, which uses antipersonnel mines to protect their drug trafficking, he said.

Colombia plans to deploy 360 deminers by year-end, against 240 now, Santos said. The aim is to recover farm lands and rebuild rural areas where dormant mines threaten civilians and their livelihoods for years.

Colombia is hosting an upcoming review conference of a 1999 international pact banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. The Ottawa treaty, ratified by 156 countries but snubbed by the United States, Russia and China, also sets deadlines for destroying stocks.

Bogota has destroyed government stocks, apart from those used in army training, but will need an extension beyond its 2011 deadline to clear all rebel mines, the vice president said.

It was critical for countries to make a fresh political commitment to the landmark treaty at the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, being held from Nov. 30 to Dec 4, he said.

High-level officials from all countries, including Venezuela and Ecuador, would be welcome "with open arms" in Colombia, despite diplomatic rifts with the close U.S. ally, he said.

Many countries which have signed the pact are failing in their obligation to help rehabilitate people injured by the weapons, according to a report issued by the Brussels-based group Handicap International on Wednesday. [IDnL2656530].

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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