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First Colombia FARC Group Disarms, Peace Deal Moves Forward as Violence Continues: UN

  • Colombian army officers examines seized grenades and weapons from the FARC in July, 2013. (FILE)

    Colombian army officers examines seized grenades and weapons from the FARC in July, 2013. (FILE) | Photo: AFP

Published 12 May 2017

While FARC agreed to drop their arms, the vacuum created by their departure has cleared the path for the entrance of armed right-wing paramilitaries.

United Nations monitors have reported that the first group of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, guerrillas has completed the disarmament process under last year's peace accord.

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"A first group of 12 members of the FARC received today from the UN mission a certificate of completion of individual disarmament, which allows them to formally begin their reintegration into civilian life," the U.N. said in a statement.

"With this event, a continuous process begins to certify the FARC members who are making the transition to civilian life after laying down their arms."

The rebel FARC fighters are disarming under U.N. supervision as part of last year's accord, which the government says will effectively end a 53-year civil conflict.

Under the accord, the FARC's weapons will be passed to the United Nations by the end of this month to be destroyed.

The arms were all supposed to have been handed over by May 1, but the U.N. said there were delays because some FARC members were late arriving at the agreed demobilization zones. The fighters crossed the country on foot and by truck to resettle in camps at U.N.-monitored zones around Colombia, but many complained that they wouldn't drop their weapons until the conditions at the camps reached minimal standards of habitability, as agreed to in the deal.

While the FARC agreed to end their revolutionary conflict with U.S.-backed Colombian state forces, the vacuum created by their departure has cleared the path for the entrance of armed right-wing paramilitaries eager to seize territories where lucrative illegal economies have thrived.

Under the deal, Herminsul Arellan Barajas, one of the men convicted for a FARC bombing that killed 36 people in Bogota in 2003, was released from jail on parole on Friday, a source in the penitentiary service told AFP.

The government in February opened negotiations with the last active rebel force, the National Liberation Army, ELN, in the hope of sealing a "complete peace."

The Colombian conflict erupted in 1964 when the FARC and ELN took up arms for rural land rights.

It drew in various rebel and paramilitary forces and drug gangs as well as state forces, leaving at least 260,000 people dead and displacing more than seven million, according to the authorities.

However, on Thursday, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez, known as "Gabino," cast doubt on the possibility of a peace deal before presidential elections in 2018, especially while right-wing paramilitary forces run rampant across the country.

"The truth is we do not believe it — it is not within our calculations, even if we wanted to — that we could move forward as fast as we all want before the elections," Gabino said.

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"We still do not see the will in a head-on fight by the state and the government against paramilitarism," the ELN leader added. The ELN has been critical of the continuation of state terror and illegal extrajudicial killings in the aftermath of the peace deal.

In many cases, communities are witnessing right-wing terror committed by non-state actors such as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym AGC, and other groups, rather than the social peace that supporters of the accord had hoped for.

Paramilitaries are typically utilized as extra-legal forces meant to advance the interest of powerful oligarchs and multinational companies who covet resource-rich territories. Prominent politicians like former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who returned to the political spotlight last year with his vocal opposition to the peace deal, have been accused of supporting death squads that helped depopulate areas which were subsequently seized, illegally, by Uribe and other landlords.

Uribe and fellow ex-President Andres Pastrana met last month with U.S. President Donald Trump in a meeting arranged by Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, leading to speculation by Colombian press outlets that right-wing forces in Colombia planned on sabotaging the peace deal with White House aid. The FARC remains designated as a "foreign terrorist organization" by Washington, raising questions about future U.S. activity in the region.

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