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LATIN AMERICA | 17-04-2023 09:21

Dissident FARC group in Colombia 'ready' for peace talks

Armed dissident group of Colombia's disbanded FARC guerrillas announce they're ready to start peace talks with the government next month, a boost for President Gustavo Petro's quest for "total peace."

An armed dissident group of Colombia's disbanded FARC guerrillas said Sunday it was ready to start peace talks with the government next month in an apparent boost for leftist President Gustavo Petro's quest for "total peace."

The EMC dissident grouping, which rejected a 2016 peace deal that disarmed the FARC, announced at a leaders' meeting in the country's rural south that "our delegates to the dialogue table with the Colombian government... are ready for May 16."

Spokeswoman Angela Izquierdo added: "We hope the official installation of the (negotiating) table can be realised."

The government of Petro, who will meet US President Joe Biden in Washington next week, has not officially announced talks with the EMC group, nor publicly proposed a date. It did not immediately comment on Sunday.

EMC top leaders have been meeting on a farm in the southern San Vicente del Caguan region since the beginning of April to plot a strategy for peace negotiations.

That included consultations with local communities under EMC control and members of the allied so-called "farmers' guard." 

The leaders included top commander "Ivan Mordisco", who the government erroneously claimed to have killed last year.

Mordisco spoke Sunday of his "conviction and hope that... we can begin to build the road map that will allow Colombia to eradicate the causes of the conflict."

Some dissidents rejected the 2016 peace agreement that led to the dissolution of Latin America's most fearsome guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while others later returned to the fold after failing to integrate into civilian life.

Despite the pact, fighting has continued between various groups of left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and traffickers vying for control of drug and illegal mining resources.

The Indepaz research institute reported nearly 100 massacres in Colombia last year. 

The EMC is estimated to have about 3,000 fighters operating mainly in the Amazon, on the Pacific coast and near the border with Venezuela.

Mordisco on Sunday also called on the rival ELN guerrilla group "to end the war between our two organisations" and vowed that from its side, the EMC would "do everything possible to find rapprochement."

 

'Total peace'

The country's first-ever leftist president, Petro has pursued negotiations with FARC dissidents and other armed groups.

Petro came to power last August with plans to bring "total peace" to a country scarred by decades of violence.

At the president's initiative, a six-month ceasefire has been in place with FARC dissidents and other armed groups since January 1.

But there have been setbacks.

The ELN guerilla group, which has been engaged in negotiations with the government since last November, refuted Petro's announcement that it had agreed to the truce that entered into force on January 1.

Last month, Petro summoned government negotiators after ELN fighters killed nine soldiers and injured nine more. 

Another round of talks with the ELN, for National Liberation Army, is scheduled for later this month in Cuba.

Also in March, the government suspended its truce with the Gulf Clan – the country's largest drug cartel – after attacks on civilians and uniformed personnel.

Colombia's opposition frequently criticises Petro for concessions he is willing to make to armed and criminal groups for peace.

Last week, the government said the peace process with EMC was being "consolidated."

The EMC had suggested negotiations should take place in Norway.

Thousands of sympathisers who live in EMC-controlled areas turned out for a popular consultation Sunday with the group's leaders to agree on the way forward.

"We are the army of the people... Communities must take part in negotiations. We cannot leave them at the mercy of the paramilitaries," an EMC commander, Danilo Alvizu, told AFP.

by Hervé Bar, AFP

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