Colombia ceasefire ‘will not stop government fighting crime’
Colombia’s defense minister has insisted the historic ceasefire with FARC rebels will not end the country’s commitment to fight crime, as a judge on Friday issued arrest warrants for leaders of another group also pushing for a peace deal.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos ordered a definitive ceasefire with the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), due to start on Monday, after the two sides reached a landmark deal to end their half-century conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes.
That announcement came after Colombian and FARC negotiators presented a 297-page peace accord Wednesday following nearly four years of arduous negotiations in Cuba.
A smaller Colombian leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), is hoping to reach a similar peace deal — but on Friday a judge ordered the arrest of the its top leaders for crimes that include their role in the destruction of oil pipelines.
The charges against members of the ELN’s Central Command include “the use of methods of illicit warfare, destruction of the environment and homicide,” a Bogota judge said in a statement.
The attorney general’s office has accused the rebel group of being behind attacks on Colombia’s oil infrastructure between 2011 and 2016, especially targeting the 780-kilometer Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline.
The pipeline attacks resulted in the loss of at least 3.5 billion barrels of crude worth $1.7 billion, as well as cleanup and environmental damage of some $25 billion, according to prosecutors.
In March Colombia and the ELN announced moves to begin formal peace, but the rebels have yet to meet the government’s precondition of releasing all of their hostages and stop all kidnapping.
– No letup on crime –
Soldiers and police will continue to combat kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal mining and human trafficking even after the ceasefire officially begins with the FARC Monday, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said Friday.
“We are in a ceasefire (with the FARC), but will not cease persecuting crime,” he said.
“We hope that this component of the ceasefire with the FARC, concerning criminal activity, will be fully implemented,” he said.
Groups of FARC rebels have been involved in all of those crimes in the past, and with peace some former guerrillas could become full-time criminals.
There is a precedent: criminal groups emerged when right-wing paramilitary death squads disbanded during the 2002-2010 presidency of Santos’s predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
The fate of the FARC-government peace accord now comes down to a decisive yes-or-no vote on October 2.
Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace process, faces a tough political battle to win the referendum.
The president’s top rival, the popular Uribe, is leading the “No” campaign and arguing that Santos has given away too much to the FARC.
Uribe said on Friday that the peace accord will “make the FARC a paramilitary group, a partner of the state to fight other criminals.”
Villegas indicated that 16,500 soldiers and police would be available to help carry out the peace agreement terms.
The police and soldiers forces will support security efforts as FARC rebels move from their jungle and mountain hideouts into disarmament camps set up by the United Nations, which is helping monitor the ceasefire.
The FARC will then become a political party, and special courts will be created to judge crimes committed during the conflict.