“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

Amidst attempts to negotiate peace with rebel and dissident groups in Colombia, a fight between two groups resulted in 18 men killed.

At least 18 people died in fighting between two FARC dissident factions for control of a drug trafficking area in Colombia’s southern jungle, said Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez on Monday. The clashes took place over the weekend in a rural area of Putumayo province, bordering Ecuador and Peru. The incident is the highest death toll from fighting among illegal armed groups since President Gustavo Petro took office in August as Colombia’s first leftist leader.

“People from the population collected corpses and moved them to the cemetery (…) 18 people died in the confrontations, there are no reports of people from the community, although some families have been displaced,” Velasquez told reporters. The Ombudsman’s Office expressed its concern over the unfortunate events that occurred Saturday, November 19, in the villages of Las Delicias and Los Pinos, in which 18 men died in the confrontation between the self-styled “Border Commandos” and the first front “Carolina Ramírez” of the FARC dissidents.

Colombia’s first leftist President, Gustavo Petro.
Petro has promised to bring “total peace” to Colombia by ending a nearly six-decade bloody internal armed conflict that left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone. Negotiators from his government will begin renewed peace talks with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels later on Monday.

All arrest warrants for members of the rebel negotiating team, including possible extraditions, have been suspended, the attorney general’s office said in a statement later on Thursday. The talks will take place in Caracas, Venezuela, the statement added. Venezuela, Cuba, and Norway are guarantor countries and the government has said talks will rotate between them.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which has some 2,400 combatants, have not advanced partly because of dissent within its ranks. Initial talks between the ELN and the government of Juan Manuel Santos began in Ecuador, later moving to Cuba, but were called off in 2019 by Santos’ successor Ivan Duque because the ELN refused to halt hostilities and killed 22 police cadets in a bombing.

Much of the ELN’s negotiating team is older than many of its members and though rebel leadership has said the group is united, it is unclear how much sway negotiators hold over active units. Petro has also promised to fully implement a 2016 peace deal with the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, as well as to seek the de-arming of crime gangs in exchange for reduced sentences and drug trafficking information.

A peace agreement signed in 2016 allowed more than 13,000 members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to reintegrate into civilian life and form a legal political party. But some FARC fronts never accepted the agreement and former leaders who signed it formed a major dissident group in 2019, alleging betrayal of the deal’s conditions by the state.

Petro has said his peace plans include FARC leaders who abandoned their group’s agreement and reduced sentences for criminal gangs who surrender. Security sources estimate there are around 2,400 FARC dissidents and say the groups are involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining. Colombia’s conflict, which has run for nearly six decades, killed 450,000 people between 1985 and 2018.