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Eighteen-month Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) demobilisation and arms handover process officially began with “D-Day” 1 Dec: FARC began to concentrate in cantonments, but some sites encountered problems due to poor infrastructure, lack of food. FARC formally registered as a political party and announced the six representatives for FARC in Congress 14 Dec – representatives are not members of FARC, do not represent its new political party and will have no vote, but will be able to participate in congressional sessions. Constitutional Court 13 Dec gave green light to fast-track mechanism for rapid approval of estimated 50 laws required to put terms of peace accord into law, including amnesty law passed 28 Dec for thousands of junior FARC and some military accused of minor crimes. Virtually no FARC armed violence reported during month, though FARC 13 Dec expelled five mid-level commanders who operated mainly in SE department Guaviare for creating dissident factions with some 190 fighters, according to govt. Opposition continues to accuse govt of “ignoring democracy” by pushing peace deal through congress and using fast track. Progress on peace process with ELN remained elusive: further round of talks around certain issues set to resume 10 Jan, but no formal start to negotiations. Group continued violent attacks, mainly in eastern department Arauca, killing two policemen 13 Dec and two soldiers 18 Dec; also blamed for 29 Dec attack on checkpoint N of Bogota in which one policeman killed. Violence against social leaders continued, including murder of local leaders in Caquetá, Nariño, Bolívar and Putumayo departments in south/SE during Nov. Press reported 2016 total ranging from 94 to 117. Different actors including UN warned of armed groups filling power vacuums left by FARC. Some groups, mainly left-wing civil society organisations, blamed paramilitaries for violence; govt 26 Dec said unclear who is responsible.
New peace agreement between govt and FARC announced 12 Nov: adopts various opposition proposals and contains numerous changes, including clear connection between transitional and ordinary judicial systems; definition of “effective restriction of liberty”; FARC commitment to provide reparations for victims; but no changes regarding FARC political participation. Govt and FARC presented agreement as definitive, angering opposition leaders who had hoped to review and revise new deal; 24 Nov signed deal, which was submitted to congress for approval 25 Nov. Senate 29 Nov approved deal by 75-0 votes, and House of Representatives next day by 130-0 votes; former president Uribe’s Democratic Centre party left Senate floor in protest during vote. Month saw FARC dissident activity and ceasefire violations. Two FARC fighters killed and one arrested in Bolívar department15 Nov by army, who reported fighters were 69 km from pre-grouping zone and extorting locals; UN mission and Tripartite Verification mechanism investigating. Human Rights Ombudsman warned of activity by FARC dissidents in Vaupés in east, while fighting within FARC involving dissident group in Tumaco continued. Peace talks with country’s second largest guerrilla group ELN scheduled for early Nov failed to begin after group continued to hold hostage politician Odín Sánchez, demanding on 7 Nov that govt first name two jailed ELN members as peace facilitators and release two other ELN prisoners. ELN increased military activity late Oct/early Nov, including attacks in Nariño, Cúcuta and Arauca, prompting govt negotiator to publicly question ELN’s willingness to negotiate. Remnants of Popular Liberation Army (EPL), guerrilla group mostly demobilised in 1991, stepped up attacks in Norte de Santander department, including sniper attack killing one soldier reported 7 Nov; attacks on military bases; bomb packed with explosives blocking main road in Catatumbo region 12 Nov.
2 Oct plebiscite to approve final peace agreement between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) lost unexpectedly by margin of less than 0.5%, with voter turnout reported at 37%. President Santos immediately called for dialogue with other political forces to renegotiate disputed parts of accord; various opposition parties and movements, foremost former President Uribe’s Democratic Centre party, handed in series of proposed changes, some minor and others touching on fundaments of agreement. Govt and FARC negotiators resumed discussions in Havana 4 Oct. FARC expressed willingness to make adjustments and changes, but said will not renegotiate substance of agreement. Talks between govt and FARC continued, resulting in 28 Oct communiqué highlighting willingness to find a solution. FARC commanders remain in Havana, while some 6,000 FARC fighters currently in around 50 “pre-concentration” sites across country. Supporters of peace deal marched in Bogotá and other cities 5 and 12 Oct calling for quick peace deal with FARC. Govt 13 Oct extended ceasefire to 31 Dec. Govt and Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group ELN announced peace talks will begin 3 Nov in Ecuador, however govt still waiting for Odín Sánchez, politician kidnapped by ELN, to be released before initiating talks. Fighting between army and ELN in east and SW mid Oct left two guerrilla fighters dead; 24 members of group demobilised 17 Oct in Chocó province, seriously weakening ELN’s Cimarrón Resistance Front. Clan Úsuga/Gaitán Self-defence Forces (GSF), country’s largest drug trafficking organisation, released communiqué 8 Oct stating again that it would be disposed to political negotiations with govt, despite govt’s insistence that GSF are not a politically-motivated group. Four mid-level commanders of group captured or killed in police operations late Sept-Oct.
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Rodrigo Londoño alias “Timochenko” and President Santos 26 Sept signed final peace agreement in Cartagena, to be voted on in national plebiscite 2 Oct. Signing ceremony followed FARC decision 23 Sept to ratify 24 Aug peace agreement. Month saw intense campaigning for plebiscite, with polls late month suggesting majority of voters likely to approve deal. FARC asked victims of past crimes for forgiveness during signing ceremony, earlier in month announced it would organise “public act of recognizing responsibility” for 1994 massacre of 35 civilians by FARC in Antioquia; FARC representatives 10 Sept met with relatives of eleven parliamentarians from Valle del Cauca department killed while imprisoned by FARC in 2007. Group also began release of child soldiers. National Liberation Army (ELN) 12-15 Sept imposed armed shutdown of business and closed roads in Arauca, Boyacá, Casanare, Norte de Santander, Santander and Vichada provinces, warned state authorities not to disobey shutdown. Group repeatedly said it will respect FARC’s decision to sign peace agreement, although it disagrees with terms of accord; announced unilateral ceasefire 30 Sept-5 Oct to facilitate plebiscite vote. ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista alias ‘Gabino’ 1 Sept declared group will respect “Temporary Village Zones for Normalization” (ZVTN) cantonments where FARC troops will gather to hand over weapons, but warned that skirmishes with govt forces may occur in areas where cantonments abut ELN territory. Both ELN and criminal groups showed signs of moving into former FARC territory, including ELN in southern part of Córdoba. Thirteen social activists killed since 24 Aug signing of peace agreement, many of them outspoken defenders of peace process or opposed to coca cultivation.
Govt and FARC 24 Aug signed “final, full and definitive” peace accord ending more than five decades of conflict, culmination of four years of talks; includes measures aiming to deal with conflict causes, including comprehensive rural reform, reforms to drug policy and coca crop substitution; truth commission and special judicial apparatus to provide redress for victims; reintegration of FARC into Colombian political system and of its fighters into civilian life. FARC to contest 2018 congressional elections, will be guaranteed ten seats in legislature. Ceasefire came into effect 29 Aug. President Santos announced plebiscite on agreement will take place 2 Oct. Opinion polls regarding plebiscite displayed contradictory results, with some showing high likelihood of defeat for peace deal; opposition 3 Aug announced it would carrying out “no” campaign rather than promote abstention. Six-month weapons abandonment process to begin following official signing of agreement late Sept. Joint groups of delegates from govt, FARC and UN verification mission 9-23 Aug carried out technical visits to 30 villages to verify they could be adapted for use as cantonment sites for FARC guerrillas. ELN guerrilla group stepped up violence: 16 Aug kidnapped four rice growers in eastern province Arauca; President Santos stated group was holding hostages in Venezuela. ELN also killed alleged rapist in small town in north 16 Aug. Clashes between ELN and Clan Úsuga drug trafficking group displaced over 170 people in west; ELN threats displaced several families in north-central Colombia; combat between armed forces and guerrilla groups, believed to be ELN and EPL (Popular Liberation Army, small regional former guerrilla group mainly dedicated to drug trafficking), displaced nearly 1,000 in NE. ELN criticised govt-FARC peace agreements for maintaining “violent, exclusionary, unequal, unjust and predatory [govt] regime”. ELN also stated it supports FARC decision for peace but maintains its “right to rebellion”.
Constitutional Court 18 July ruled on referendum on govt-FARC peace accords, accepting govt’s proposal of minimum number of votes required to validate result of the plebiscite at 13% of electorate. Communiqué from FARC’s First front, located in SE and reported by state authorities to be heavily engaged in drug-trafficking, announced it would not take part in peace process. FARC leadership 8 July stated that group would be excluded from FARC since it did not follow orders to take part in peace process; many FARC fronts and units subsequently affirmed commitment to peace process. ELN guerrilla group late June publicly stated it “respects” agreements signed by govt and FARC; three ELN leaders called for peace with govt, blamed govt for stalled negotiations. “Gulf Cartel”, regarded as Colombia’s most important criminal organisation, stated it would “respect” FARC cantonment areas, also announced it would be “neutral but not indifferent observer” of process. Govt and FARC negotiators on peace talks’ gender commission 24 July agreed to improve land access for women and ensure sexual violence will be excluded from amnesty, as well as respect gender focus in the agreements already reached in Havana. Military and FARC guerrillas clashed in Meta province early July as a result of communications errors, some injuries reported. UN Office on Drugs and Crime report on coca cultivation in 2015 revealed 39% increase in total cultivated area compared to 2014, rising to 96,000 hectares, prompting some observers to speculate that govt had relaxed its anti-narcotics efforts in order to secure a final peace deal with FARC.
Govt and FARC 23 June signed agreement on “end of conflict” and referendum mechanism for population’s approval of final deal, constituting final step of peace process. Agreement spells out functioning of ceasefire and cessation of hostilities; process for arms abandonment; security guarantees and preparation of “reincorporation” for FARC guerrillas; 23 cantonment sites and eight smaller sites where FARC will assemble forces; and adoption of Constitutional Court’s ruling on mechanism for referendum on final peace deal. Outstanding issues include agreement on FARC “reincorporation” to civilian life and transformation into a political movement, and monitoring and implementation mechanisms for all commitments. Kidnappings by National Liberation Army (ELN) persisted amid continued disagreement with govt over issue, stalling opening of formal talks. Úsuga Clan, or Gulf Cartel, country’s largest criminal group, suffered series of setbacks with two commanders killed 7 and 11 June in military operations.
President Santos 11 May said govt hoped to reach peace deal with FARC in “very near future”, as difficult issues including arms abandonment continue to delay signing . Govt and FARC 13 May agreed on legal mechanisms to protect future peace deal; govt stated that if plebiscite vote favours peace deal, it will be defined as a special international agreement according to Geneva conventions and be temporarily included as part of constitution. Govt and FARC 15 May announced agreement for rebels to release all fighters aged fifteen years and younger from camps. Issue of kidnapping still stalling start of formal negotiations with ELN as govt stated it will not negotiate as long as group continues to kidnap and/or retain hostages; ELN said it rejected any such preconditions. ELN 28 May released three journalists, one Spanish and two Colombians, kidnapped 21 and 23 May respectively. Govt 6 May authorised use of military force against neo-paramilitary groups created or strengthened after 2003-2006 paramilitary demobilisation, creating new category of “organised armed group” comprising Úsuga Clan, Pelusos and Puntilleros.
FARC and govt negotiating teams 14 April indicated progress has been made on issue of “abandoning arms”. Following failure to meet self-imposed 23 March deadline for signing final peace deal, FARC 10 April stated agreement could be signed in next round of talks, but govt 19 April said it would be “some months”. National Liberation Army (ELN) mid-April reported peace talks with govt will begin in May and first round will be held in Ecuador, following 30 March joint govt/ELN announcement of opening of formal peace talks. Neoparamilitary group Clan Úsuga/Urabeños 31 March-1 April carried out “armed stoppage” in north west, prohibiting all transportation and forcing all businesses to close under threat of violence; during the stoppage the Urabeños killed four, attacked military and towns, burned vehicles, blocked roads and carried out propaganda-focused actions, affecting at least 36 municipalities. Govt 11 April said Urabeños is purely criminal, rejected any possibility of negotiations with group.
Govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) 30 March announced opening of formal peace talks; six agenda points will be discussed in negotiating tables with “sessions” in five countries: Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. ELN 20 and 23 March released two hostages, one allegedly after payment of ransom. ELN had continued to carry out violent attacks during month, mostly in NE, with some nine armed forces members killed and two kidnapped; seven guerrillas reportedly killed 14 March in western department Chocó as govt continued retaliatory military operations. Govt and FARC failed to meet self-imposed 23 March deadline to sign a final accord or a bilateral ceasefire as differences emerged between negotiators over document drafted by technical sub-committee, specifically concerning arms abandonment. Social organisations 14 March expressed concern over killing of 29 members of political left across country early-March; victims reportedly include community leaders, land claimants and members of peasant movements. President of left-wing Patriotic Union (UP) party Aída Avella tied killings to potential spoilers of FARC peace process, others, such as analyst Ariel Avila, alleged killings carried out by new paramilitary groups.
Negotiators in Havana scheduled to resume talks 2 March to address pending issues on termination of conflict, ahead of 23 March deadline for final agreement. National Liberation Army (ELN) 14-17 Feb carried out some 35 attacks, prompting increased attacks by armed forces. President Santos 8 Feb stated ELN can either support peace or face intensified military response. Govt 18 Feb suspended further visits to Colombia by FARC negotiators, stating they violated terms of travel to country from talks in Cuba including ban on contact with civilians, after FARC negotiators met with local community in town of Conejo, reportedly to provide updates on progress of peace talks. FARC 10 Feb said it would no longer recruit children. U.S. President Obama 4 Feb announced new 2017 “Peace Colombia” aid package to support country while it seeks to consolidate peace with FARC. Police 29 Feb arrested former President Uribe’s son Santiago in Medellín on charges of murder and conspiracy; accused of setting up “Twelve Apostles” paramilitary group in 1990s, Santiago denied any involvement with group.
Peace talks between govt and FARC resumed 12 Jan; parties 22 Jan agreed on creation of “executive commission” to make decisions over final drafting of pending agreements in attempt to speed up last stage of negotiations. FARC 13 Jan publicly expressed doubt over possibility of meeting 23 March deadline for final agreement. Govt and FARC 19 Jan issued joint statement on creation of three-party mechanism for verification of disarmament and bilateral ceasefire; would include govt, FARC and UN political mission made up of observers from Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) member states. UNSC 26 Jan unanimously accepted govt and FARC formal request for creation of political mission; mission would be unarmed and have one-year mandate. ELN violence continued despite late-Dec statement by top ELN commander Nicolas Bautista, alias Gabino, that peace agenda with govt had been finalised: clashes with security forces reported 10 Jan in Catatumbo, two soldiers killed.