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ELN Seeks ‘Temporary and Renewable’ Ceasefire in Colombia

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The chief negotiator of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia’s peace talks, Pablo Beltran, said on Tuesday that the objective of the third round of negotiations is to reach a “temporary and renewable” bilateral ceasefire, a process which he said takes time because it requires “very precise procedures.”

During an interview with TeleSUR on the Enclave Politica program, Beltran said that the ELN is committed to peace talks and the peace process, and that a consensus has emerged among its members that there “must be a bilateral ceasefire.”

The task of the third round of dialogue is “to make the agreement, design the protocols, sign them, and then apply them. This round must be about the bilateral ceasefire that we want to last beyond the visit of Pope Francis,” according to Beltran.

Beltran emphasized that the group’s motto has always been to “be with the people, and that there is a large sector of Colombian society that wants peace.” The ELN has been accused by some of those opposed to peace talks for allegedly only being interested in peace because their political project has “failed.”

The reason for being in the ELN, he said, is to always be with the people and acting where there is social change and struggle. Beltran said that at the heart of the peace talks is “that there is participation so that the people say how Colombian democracy should be… that is why there are sectors of the right that oppose peace.”

“Some sectors in the government want an expedited negotiation, but we want things to be done well so that it is durable,” he said regarding delays in the process.

“We have lost 26 months in the negotiations because of the government tactic to place the ELN negotiations behind those with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC),” he said. “There is a sector of the hard right that is going to oppose anything that signals peace.”

While dialogue progresses, the ELN still is active and present in several regions of Colombia, where the chief negotiater said they have programs and popular support. “The ELN is alive, it is acting,” he said.

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Colombia’s Uribe Still Refuses to Give Peace a Chance

Colombia’s Uribe Still Refuses to Give Peace a Chance, Vows to Roll Back Deal with FARC If His Party Wins in 2018 Election
  • Far-right senator and former president, Alvaro Uribe, leads a march against Colombia
    Far-right senator and former president, Alvaro Uribe, leads a march against Colombia’s peace deal in Cartagena, Sept. 26, 2016. | Photo: EFE
Uribe has long defended the fringe opinion that demobilized FARC members should be behind bars and not participating in politics.

Even as Colombia’s largest guerrilla army is just days away from laying down the last of its weapons once and for all, the country’s far-right former President Alvaro Uribe remains unwilling to give peace a chance after over half a century of civil war, vowing Wednesday to roll back the historic peace accords with the FARC is his party wins next year’s elections.

RELATED: Colombia Right-Wing Paramilitary Group Labels Rights Defenders ‘Military Targets’

Uribe, who as president from 2002 to 2010 presided over record-level human rights abuses and number of people fleeing Colombia as refugees, has been the country’s staunchest opponent of the landmark peace deal.

The controversial politician has long argued that the accords — signed last year by President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timoleon Jimenez or Timochenko — offer an “impunity” deal to the FARC by prioritizing truth and reconciliation over criminal prosecutions for demobilized members of the rebel force.

“The accords will not be eliminated, they will be modified,” Uribe, a senator with the right-wing Democratic Center party said Wednesday from Madrid, arguing that what he described as “impunity” for the FARC will give way to more violence.

Uribe was the chief proponent of the “No” campaign in last year’s plebiscite on the peace agreement, which Colombian voters rejected by less than half a percentage point. A modified version of the peace deal was later approved by Congress.

The firebrand former president has advocated for an end-of-conflict deal that would see former FARC rebels put behind bars for their crimes and blocked from participating in politics. He staunchly rejected the peace agreement’s transitional justice measures that offer reduced sentences and community service for armed actors who own up to their crimes, sticking by his characterization of FARC members as criminals and terrorists.

RELATED: ‘Chiquita Papers’ Expose How Banana Execs Fueled War and Terror in Colombia for Decades

Uribe has also been a fierce opponent of the political participation agreements outlined in the peace deal that will grant the FARC non-voting representation in Congress until the 2018 election, when it will debut as a political party with five seats guaranteed both in the lower house of Congress and the Senate. Uribe argued the measures of the deal afford FARC rebels “excessive benefits.”

Supporters of the peace deal argue that agreements on political participation, alongside the other five pillars of the peace accords, are essential for bringing an end to over five decades of internal armed conflict and ensuring that a war of ideas in party politics — not weapons — define Colombia’s political future.

Nevertheless, Uribe has continued to double down on his rejection of the deal, arguing from Madrid Wednesday that former FARC rebels are not “eligible” to participate in politics and fear mongering that their involvement in governing the country would have a negative impact on the economy and “create a second Venezuela.”

Whipping up opposition to agreement in the final months of the peace negotiations last year, Uribe said in an interview with Colombia’s El Espectador that it was cause for “panic” that Santos “has said that (FARC leader) Timochenko could be president.” The fact-checking website Colombiacheck labeled the statement “inflated,” pointing out that Uribe failed to put in context Timochenko’s complicated legal situation in the face of dozens of investigations, the FARC’s low approval rating among Colombian voters, and the international precedent of El Salvador, where it took decades for a former guerrilla leader to win the country’s top office.

But despite being misleading, the comments were emblematic of the kind of misrepresentations of the peace deal and anti-FARC hysterics that has characterized Uribe’s high-profile criticism, including during the “No” campaign against the peace deal ahead of the November 2016 plebiscite.

RELATED: Colombia Denies UN Claim of Paramilitary-Linked Violence

And while Uribe has warned that “impunity” for the FARC could birth further violence as the 52-year-old civil war comes to a close, human rights defenders have long warned that the greatest threat to security and the stability of the peace deal in the country is the resurgence of right-wing paramilitary activity.

Both the Santos government and Uribe’s far-right faction have turned a blind eye to paramilitary violence, labeling the death squad syndicates “criminal gangs.” The characterization, pioneered by Uribe when he was president, effectively depoliticizes the violence of paramilitaries and downplays their role in a spiral of targeted attacks and violent harassment of mostly poor, rural communities.

Uribe has also been accused of links to right-wing paramilitary groups and also oversaw the “false positives” scandal. The shocking scandal broke in 2008, revealing systematic extrajudicial military killings of civilians, including homeless and mentally ill people, and dressing them in guerrilla fatigues to boost the government’s body count in the war on rebels. More than 3,000 people were killed as “false positives” during Uribe’s two terms in office.

Paramilitary groups are said to be responsible for at least 80 percent of civilian deaths in the country’s more than half-century-long civil war that has claimed the lives of some 260,000 people and victimized millions more.

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Ceremony Marks FARC’s Disarmament in Colombia

  • Timochenko and the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during the disarmament ceremony
    Timochenko and the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos during the disarmament ceremony | Photo: EFE
The former rebel group plans to move into civilian life and continue its social struggle via political means.

The United Nations has confirmed that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, has delivered 7,132 weapons, as part of the peace process to end decades of conflict and start their transition into politics.

RELATED: A Timeline of Colombia’s Peace Process

The group’s representatives and the government have been attending a disarmament ceremony in the Mesetas, around 250 kilometers south of Bogota.

The rebels’ leader Rodrigo Londoño, also called Timoleon Jimenez, or Timochenko, and the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos were also present.

Timochenko told FARC fighters they were “yesterday militants of the people’s army, now militants of the hope of the people.”

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Caminaremos por las calles y las plazas de Colombia llevando nuestro mensaje de concordia y reconciliación.

“Today is not the end of the FARC, it’s the end of us taking up the arms 50 years ago, we continue to exist through legal and peaceful means,” Timochenko said.

The FARC leader said the group had honored their word and complied with the peace deal, and they expected the state to do its part, demanding an end to political persecution.

“We will walk through the streets and plazas of Colombia bringing our message of peace,” Timochenko said.

“Goodbye to arms, goodbye to war, welcome peace!”

Timochneko denounced paramilitary violence which continues to harm the group as well as the deaths of human rights activists who have been murdered since the peace agreement was signed.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

proceso en San José de Oriente Cesar, con @MisionONUCol y Fernando Correal Salazar Líder Iglesia Ortodoxa

Six months after the signing of the Amnesty Law, he said many FARC members are still in jail. Only 832 of the 3,400 FARC prisoners have received amnesty. Hundreds of them have started a hunger strike to demand the implementation of this part of the agreement.

“The peace agreement is not for the FARC but for the entirety of Colombia,” Timochenko said.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos told the audience at the ceremony “We are no longer a story of pain and death, we are one people and one nation, advancing towards the future in democracy”. He added that “Today is the day the weapons were changed by words.”

Santos said the disarmament signifies the end of decades of war that affected millions, and the international community will see through the implementation of all aspects of the agreements. He said both sides still need to comply with several aspects of the deal.

“There will be justice, and there will be reparation, there will be truth, and a guaranty of no repetition, we made sure of that in the peace agreement,” Santos said.

Colombia’s President said he will never agree with the FARC on the political or economic model for the nation but said he will defend their right to express their ideas, and offered all security guarantees that are necessary.

Jean Arnault, head of the U.N. mission in Colombia, said the disarmament process has seen the largest amount of weapons being handed in from any recent conflict. He said this implementation will bring definitive peace and prosperity especially to the most affected areas and hope for the victims.

“We recommend that the UN gather the lessons of the experience of the mission in Colombia to apply them in other parts of the world,” Arnault said.

The process to deliver all weapons was approved on May 29, 2017. It marks the beginning of the fighters’ reintegration into society and the end to more than fifty years of conflict with the Colombian government, which claimed around 260,000 lives.

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Cesar López abre este acto histórico, el Fin de Dejación de las Armas de las @FARC_EPueblo. . Adios a la guerra.

Timochenko and other leaders have said they will continue their fight for social justice now through peaceful means.

The disarmament process had been scheduled to end last month, but the both sides announced an extension due to logistical problems. The sticking points included issues over security and infrastructure shortages for the 26 transition zones for members of the FARC.

RELATED: Colombia’s Uribe Vows to Roll Back Deal with FARC If His Party Wins in 2018 Election

The zones are the next phase of the peace process which is helping the former rebels reintegrate back into civilian life.

The historic agreement had the support of the international community, especially guarantor countries such as Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, Norway and Chile.

The UN peace mission said that by August 1 they will have stored all the weapons from the camps. They will be used to build three monuments signifying peace as agreed in the deal negotiated with the Colombian government in Cuba.

Further aspects of the accord still to be implemented include land for campesinos, demining, the fight against drug trafficking as well as state social investment in education and health.


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Colombian Human Rights Leader Assassinated



Colombian human rights defender Emilsen Manyoma | Photo: Conpaz

On Tuesday police in the Pacific coast city of Buenaventura announced they had discovered the body of Afro-Colombian human rights activist Emilsen Manyoma, 32, and her partner Joe Javier Rodallega, who had been missing since Saturday.

A prominent leader in the Bajo Calima region since 2005, Manyoma was an active member of the community network CONPAZ where she was an outspoken critic of right-wing paramilitary groups and the displacement of local by international mining and agribusiness interests.

For the past year Manyoma played a key role in documenting attacks on human rights leaders in the region as part of the recently created Truth Commission.

The police said they had found the bodies in an advanced state of decomposition in a jungle area beside the highway. The Justice and Peace Commission, an ecumenical human rights group, reported that both bodies were severely wounded, with Rodallega’s hands reported tied. Radio Contagio reported that both bodies were beheaded.

While police did not release the names of any suspects, just days before their disappearance on Saturday, Rodallega reported being threatened and said a truck had been circling Manyoma’s house.

According to the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, at least 85 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia in 2016 alone.

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Leftist Leader Says ‘Political Genocide’ Looming in Colombia

  • Aida Avella, president of the Patriotic Union, leads a rally in Bogota, Colombia in a photo from Nov. 15, 2013.
    Aida Avella, president of the Patriotic Union, leads a rally in Bogota, Colombia in a photo from Nov. 15, 2013. | Photo: EFE
Recent attacks on leftist activists in Colombia is leading some to draw parallels with the systemic extermination of leftists in the ’80s and ’90s.

Left-wing politician Aida Avella warned that Colombia could be witness to the kind of targeted killings of political activists like those seen in the 1980s and 1990s that saw an entire political party be virtually wiped out.

RELATED: Colombia’s Patriotic Union: A Victim of Political Genocide

Avella is the president of the Patriotic Union, a party that saw no less than 5,000 of its supporters, including sitting politicians and presidential candidates, killed by the state and its paramilitary allies in what was deemed a political genocide.

“I don’t think another genocide is starting, rather it is a continuation of the genocide against opposition sectors. That’s because the paramilitary structures have not been dismantled, they are completely intact,” Avella told Contagio Radio.

Despite the much-heralded signing of a peace agreement between the state and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, the country has been experiencing a wave of killings of left-wing activists and social movement leaders.

The political movement Marcha Patriotica has received death threats directed at a number of the organization’s members including student and campesino leaders, as well as prominent Senator Piedad Cordoba.

A slew of murders of rural and social activists in recent weeks has sparked alarm over systemic violence against human rights defenders, left-wing political activists, and supporters of the peace process. The FARC itself has not begun its demobilization process over concerns about the safety of the rebels.

Colombia Paramilitaries Threaten Leftist Leaders

Avella said the people behind the targeted assassinations of supporters of the Patriotic Union are also behind the recent wave of killings.

“There is a big plan against Marcha Patriotica – that is to say, there are intellectual authors and there are financiers – and since there are such things, the state can not relent from punishing this sort of thing,” said Avella.

The peace agreement includes a section that makes it incumbent on the Colombian state to guarantee the safety of political activists.

Rights defenders have drawn parallels between the barrage of attacks on the Marcha Patriotica and the systematic extermination of the Patriotic Union over the course of the last century. The attack on the party is seen as one of the reasons a previous effort to secure peace failed.

Leftists fear a repeat of the same scenario would mean peace would once again slip out of their hands.

“I think we are going to need to get used to the idea that the life of a campesino is as important as of a minister,” said Avella.

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