UN calls on officials, FARC rebels for restraint in Colombia

United Nations envoy attempts to ease tensions, following standoff between security forces and farmers provoked by FARC

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

A United Nation envoy has called on the Colombian security forces and farmers to restrain from violence, after the farmers attempted to dismiss police officials from their village due to the pressure from FARC rebels.

Hundreds of police organised in the village of El Mango in Colombia’s southwest on Saturday, following an arson at the village’s makeshift barracks to force out a small police force allocated there.

Colombian officials accused some of the village’s residents to be supporters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). Both sides have not stepped back from the conflict, endangering the ongoing peace talks.

Todd Howland, UN high commissioner and representative of UN in Colombia for human rights, said residents are being unjustly labelled as FARC sympathisers.

"People feel they receive very little benefit because police in these conflict zones don't actually do police work," Howland reported to the Associated Press.

"They're sandbagged in. It's like having a military base in town," he said.

The struggle between Colombian government and guerrilla organisations such as the FARC has been continuing for 50 years. Over the years the death toll of the conflict has exceeded 220,000.

The FARC rebels declared an armistice in December 2014 and invited the government forces to lay down arms against them. Despite such steps, the conflict is yet to be resolved.

Lately, the ongoing peace process has been struck by numerous events. Government forces conducted military operations and air strikes against the guerrilla forces after 11 soldiers were killed in an ambush in April. In reaction FARC unilaterally announced the suspension of the ceasefire last month.

More recently on May 31, an attack destroyed an electrical tower and left Colombia’s biggest port city of Buenaventura without power. The attack was attributed to the FARC rebels by the Colombian officials.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos last year announced that during the peace talks the participants would focus negotiations on political reform, redistribution of land, ending drugs trafficking and reparations for the families of victims of the long-lasting conflict.

The talks have already produced partial agreements on rural reform, FARC to abandon drug trafficking activities, and its integration into Colombian political life.

Two negotiating points remain; victims and the end of violence.

The Colombian government and the FARC recently agreed on the formation of a truth commission that would be assembled upon the signing of a final agreement and would investigate what happened during the conflict.

Prior to the 38th round of peace talks that began in Cuba on June 17, Santos said “I am perfectly confident that we have a real opportunity to put the conflict in the only place it belongs: the history books.”

While FARC’s press statement revealed a hopeful stance “to make an agreement that will stop the conflict immediately, without waiting for the signing of a final agreement,” the Colombian government seeks a final agreement before a bilateral ceasefire can be implemented.

“We … put aside our disagreements, despite the inconsistencies of the discourse and actions of the government, which do nothing but ignite tensions in the country, and we once again call for a bilateral ceasefire that will bring relief and newfound hope to our people,” the FARC statement read.

Luis Carlos Villegas, Colombia’s former ambassador to the United States, returned to Bogota on June 17 to become the new defence minister.

Before moving to the US to seek support for the peace talks, he was part of the Colombian government’s peace negotiation team in Havana.

Residents of El Mango have threatened to flee from the town if the police forces do not withdraw, it is unclear whether the officials will concur.  

Negotiators from Colombia's ombudsman's office and the Organization of American States are in El Mango in an effort to ease tensions between the FARC rebels and security officials.


TRTWorld and agencies