The administration of Colombian President Gustavo Petro has announced the suspension of a ceasefire agreement with a rebel group accused of killing four indigenous people in a recent attack.
The government said on Monday it would resume attacks on the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) group, a splinter of the now disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once the country’s largest rebel group.
The temporary suspension applies to the provinces of Caqueta, Putumayo, Guaviare and Meta. The EMC ceasefire will remain in effect in other regions.
“If a bilateral ceasefire is not effective in protecting the life and integrity of the entire population of certain territories, then there is no point in continuing,” a government statement said.
The incident highlights the difficulty of securing peace in a country where various armed groups fight for control of resources and territory, often leading to violence and displacement in the regions where they are active.
Communication of public opinion about the EMC-FARC ceasefire. pic.twitter.com/Wunu8xIQuT
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) May 22, 2023
Last week, Indigenous organizations accused the EMC of killing four people who tried to avoid forced recruitment in the southern province of Putumayo. all four victims native minors, according to a government statement on social media.
On Saturday, Petro’s administration called the killings an “attack on peace”. The president continued to condemn the violence on Monday through his Twitter account.
“Killing Indigenous children is an unacceptable crime against humanity,” Petro wrote. “The forced recruitment of minors is the same.”
In Colombia and throughout South America, indigenous communities are often subjected to violence from criminal groups that seek to carry out illegal operations in the areas where they live.
The attacks also highlight the challenges facing Petro as he tries to implement a “total peace” agenda to end Colombia’s nearly six decades of internal conflict.
Petro, the country’s first left-wing president and former guerrilla fighter, has sought to distance himself from the heavy-handed, military-centric approach of his predecessors.
But his emphasis on negotiations with armed groups, however, produced mixed results. A Red Cross report released in March found that, while violence between armed groups and government forces has fallen, civilians continue to face displacement and violence from armed groups.
Those mixed results were further demonstrated when, around the New Year holiday, Petro announced that his government had reached a series of ceasefire agreements, including with the EMC and other FARC dissident groups such as Segunda Marquetalia.
But almost immediately, he had to backtrack on claims that a truce had also been reached with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the largest remaining rebel group, after it denied the existence of such a truce. – bone.
And the ceasefires that remain have hit obstacles. Petro accused the Gulf Clan criminal group of violating its ceasefire.
Attempts at a cease-fire continue, meanwhile, with the ELN, with the latest round of talks being held in Cuba. But those negotiations have been fraught with tensions, especially after the group allegedly killed nine Colombian soldiers in late March.
“When Petro came to power, he essentially promised to try and reach what he called ‘total peace’,” explained Al Jazeera reporter Alessandro Rampietti.
“It was seen as very ambitious, but many groups also saw the opportunity [of] that there is, for the first time, a leftist president to negotiate with – someone who is less angry than the previous Colombian governments,” he said.
“But so far, this plan is big on announcements and big on the president’s vision but has achieved little in terms of practical effects.”
Groups like the EMC were created after a historic peace deal in 2016, which saw the FARC disbanded as an armed force. More than 14,000 fighters have agreed to demobilize – a milestone in a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Some groups, however, refused to join the 2016 peace accord. Former FARC commanders have formed their own organizations, such as EMC.
Petro, which inherited the legacy of this 2016 deal, intends to engage directly with groups like EMC to see them disarm as well.
But as Rampietti reports, Petro’s approach has been criticized as too soft by some in the political opposition. Incidents such as the deaths of four Indigenous youths only heighten concerns.
“Consider that the formal negotiations of this group were supposed to start on May 16 but were postponed while the government’s negotiations with this group are still trying to settle the details, among other things, of how the expectation will work the truce,” said Rampietti. .
“In fact, this is, unfortunately, the latest failure in a series of failures that Petro’s peace policy has seen in the country since he came to power in August.”