HAVANA (AP) – Colombia's government and the country's biggest rebel movement announced an agreement Saturday to begin a pilot program for removing land mines as part of efforts to lower the intensity of a conflict that has lasted a half century.
The announcement came at the end of the latest round of peace talks that began in Cuba's capital since in November 2012.
Under the agreement, the Colombian army battalion that specializes in removing mines will clear explosives at a selected number of sites while working under the supervision of a team that will include two members each from the government, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and affected communities.
"The proposal for demining is a first step, but a giant step toward making peace," said Humberto de La Calle, spokesman for the government.
Ivan Marquez, the chief negotiator for the rebel movement known as the FARC, said the deal would help remove unexploded mines — explosives that "have taken the dreams of thousands of people living in our country."
Government figures say land mines caused 11,043 deaths and injuries to its people over the past 15 years. Of those, 4,226 were civilians.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos praised the deal. "I want to congratulate our negotiators and I appreciate this step taken by the FARC," he said in Bogota.
In previous talks, the government and rebels have reached partial agreements on agricultural issues, political participation and combating drug trafficking. Negotiators are now focusing on reparations for victims of the violence, the surrender of weapons and reintegration of rebels into civilian life.
The new round of talks is scheduled to begin March 17.