Colombia celebrates five years since the signing of a historic peace agreement

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Colombia celebrated on Wednesday five years ago the signing of historic peace agreements that ended a conflict of almost six decades that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left a legacy of violence.

Former combatants, representatives of victims, the government and the head of the UN gathered at the headquarters of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal set up to judge the worst crimes in the conflict where about nine million people were killed, injured, kidnapped or displaced.

“We insist on apologizing to the victims of our actions during the conflict,” said Rodrigo Londono, a former commander of the now defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group, at the ceremony in Bogota.

“Our understanding of their pain grows daily in us and fills us with sorrow and shame,” said the fighter who became a politician previously known under his war alias Timochenko.

About 13,000 guerrillas have surrendered their weapons since the signing of the 2016 peace pact, but violence remains in many regions of Colombia where FARC dissidents, who rejected the agreement, continue to fight paramilitary and rebel groups and drug traffickers in the world’s largest cocaine-producing country.

Nearly 300 former FARC fighters, who have since been transformed into a political minority party, have been killed in the past five years.

Former President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating with a guerrilla group he had already beaten militarily, expressed “satisfaction” that his successor and political rival Ivan Duque was present at Wednesday’s ceremony.

Duque had previously tried to change the peace deal, which he and his right-wing party consider too soft against the FARC.

On the peace train

“The peace train that so many had wanted to derail or stop continues,” Santos said.

“President Duque has come on the peace train that we have seen with great satisfaction lately.”

Colombia is experiencing its most violent period since 2016 due to continued fighting between armed groups over control of drug fields, illegal gold mines and lucrative smuggling routes.

According to the peace research institute Indepaz, there are 90 armed groups with about 10,000 members active in the country.

They include more than 5,000 FARC dissidents who rejected peace, about 2,500 members of the National Liberation Army or ELN – the country’s last active guerrilla group, and another 2,500 right-wing paramilitary fighters.

Last month, the UN warned that the deteriorating security situation represented a “significant challenge” to the country’s 2016 peace agreement.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday of “risks to peace” posed by “armed groups linked to drug trafficking”.

“It is not too late to reverse this trend by concentrating all efforts … in places where violence is most intense,” he said, promising “full support” from the United Nations.

Duque, on the other hand, reiterated its call for “total truth” to emerge from the JEP, which has not yet ruled.

The tribunal has the power to offer alternatives to imprisonment to people who admit their crimes and pay damages to the victims – a system that some fear will allow criminals to get away freely.

To date, former FARC commanders have been accused of kidnapping at least 21,000 people and recruiting 18,000 minors, while senior military officials are accused of killing about 6,400 civilians presented as guerrillas.

“All of us here want to see effective, up-to-date, real justice,” Duque said.

(AFP)

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