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Colombian government in ceasefire and further talks with FARC splinter groups for peace

By SERGIO HELD in Bogota | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-20 20:30

President of Colombia Gustavo Petro [File photo/Agencies]

Moving forward with its agenda of "total peace" for the country, the Colombian government entered into a new ceasefire agreement with splinter groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and scheduled October talks in yet another push for progress.

Further peace talks are scheduled for Oct 8, according to their joint statement. Both sides engaged in meetings between Aug 30 and Sept 2 and talks from Sept 17-19.

The government of President Gustavo Petro has invested a lot of political capital in the eventual success of the negotiations. One of Petro's key campaign promises was to bring about what he called "total peace" to the country.

Oct 8 will see the "installation of peace talks and the declaration of the agreement to respect civilians and the (ceasefire), and a cessation of offensive operations," Reuters cited the statement as saying.

When he assumed power in August 2022, Petro reached out to the National Liberation Army (ELN) – another rebel group with about 5,400 members that has operated in the country since 1964. Talks with the ELN have moved forward on neutral ground, hosted by nearby countries like Mexico, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Santiago Velez, a Colombian political scientist and consultant, said, "The Petro administration will have to make dazzling legislative and judicial pirouettes to ignore the implications of that agreement, which has a constitutional character."

These new talks are now being held with two terrorist groups called Second Marquetalia, which are FARC, and the FARC Estado Mayor, D'mar Cordoba, a lawyer and political analyst in Bogota, Colombia's capital, told the correspondent.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, signed a Final Agreement for the Termination of the Conflict and the Construction of a Stable and Durable Peace in 2016, but the splinter groups refused to join the 2016 peace deal between the main FARC group and the government.

According to data from the Colombian government, 13,394 FARC members were demobilized following the 2016 agreement.

However, other official figures and data from various non-governmental organizations that track the conflict, suggest between 5,500 and 7,000 FARC members continue to operate throughout the country.

On Sept 4 the government and ELN concluded a fourth cycle of their ongoing peace dialogue in Caracas, Venezuela. Both sides are continuing to monitor a cease-fire and are working on finding a viable path forward for peace talks.

"We have initiated a process of participation that intends to be the meeting between a civil ELN and Colombian society," said Otty Patino, the chief negotiator for the government. Patino is a former member of the M-19 guerrilla group that President Petro also belonged to.

"It is a scenario in which differences are conveyed in a frank, intelligent, and non-aggressive manner that will help in the construction of a great National Agreement," Patino said.

However, skepticism remains of the 2016 agreement and talks.

Clearly the government's strategy and its current negotiating capacity are inadequate and insufficient to reach a responsible agreement in the national interest, said Velez, as the "criminal groups" should not be offered a fertile negotiating ground in exchange for nothing.

Velez stressed that the 2016 agreement was clear that FARC members who did not comply or reoffended would be prosecuted.

"This should apply, in theory, to both the so-called Estado Mayor Central and the Second Marquetalia, both FARC dissident groups," he said.

Cordoba said, "The talks with the FARC and the Petro government have shown that the agreement they called 'peace' in 2016 was a failure that served to give freedom to guerrilla leaders who are now in Congress," he said.

Colombia's attorney general suspended arrest warrants for more than 20 members of the EMC earlier in March to allow them to participate in the dialogue.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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