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Political tensions continued over role of transitional justice mechanism of 2016 peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while violence between armed groups led to mass displacement. Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), created under peace deal to handle cases deriving from govt-FARC conflict, 15 May ruled against imprisonment and extradition to U.S. of ex-FARC commander Jesús Santrich, arrested on drug trafficking charges in joint U.S.-Colombia operation April 2018; SJP ruled evidence did not establish that Santrich had committed trafficking crimes after 1 Dec 2016, date FARC demobilisation began. Police 17 May re-arrested Santrich immediately after his release following attorney general’s office distribution of video allegedly showing Santrich committing crimes post-demobilisation date. Santrich released 30 May on Supreme Court’s order. Attorney general, deputy attorney general and justice minister resigned in protest at SJP’s decision to not extradite Santrich. Constitutional Court 29 May ruled Congress had rejected President Duque’s objections against SJP, obliging him to sign law regarding functioning of SJP. Duque 24 May announced appointment of independent commission to review military orders and operational instructions following New York Times report 18 May alleging military leaders had set targets for army including number of deaths or surrenders of enemy combatants. Conflicts between armed groups displaced or confined over 2,000 during month. FARC dissident groups 2 May clashed in Nariño (south west), displacing over 200 and putting Dec truce between various dissident groups under strain. In Juradó, Chocó (west), fighting between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, country’s main drug trafficking group) and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group displaced over 900 people and confined 800 within their communities between late April and mid May. Other violence continued; unknown attackers 14 May attacked judicial commission in Tibú, Norte de Santander (north east), killing two members of commission and wounding five policemen. Attacks on activists increased with almost ten killed during month, mainly in Putumayo (south west), Bolívar (north), Antioquia (north west) and Arauca (east) departments.
Congress rejected President Duque’s objections to transitional justice mechanism in show of support to 2016 peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while violence between armed groups continued to cause mass displacement. Lower House 8 April rejected Duque’s objections and call for changes to Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), transitional justice mechanism created under peace deal to handle cases deriving from govt-FARC conflict, with representatives voting 110-44 against. Ruling Democratic Centre party successfully delayed vote in Senate, which is also expected to reject objections. UN Security Council 16 April gave unanimous support to SJP and asked Congress to immediately pass law outlining its working systems; U.S. voiced support for SJP at meeting, despite U.S. ambassador early April pressing MPs to approve Duque’s objections. Conflicts between armed groups including FARC dissidents and drug traffickers displaced or confined over 5,000 during month. Fighting between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, country’s main drug trafficking group) and AGC splinter group “Caparrapos” that began 22 March reportedly led to over 2,250 people fleeing their homes in Córdoba (north). In Chocó (west), fighting between AGC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group moved toward town of Bojayá, trapping some 2,800 people. Clashes between FARC dissident group Oliver Sinisterra front and local drug trafficking group the “Accountants” in Tumaco (south west) 12 April displaced some 700, while 250 people were displaced by clashes between AGC and dissident Estiven González front in Nariño 16 April (south west). ELN 12 April announced unilateral ceasefire 14-21 April, leading to drop in violence, but bombed oil pipeline in Norte de Santander (north east) 13 April. ELN also clashed with dissident Carlos Patiño front throughout April in El Plateado, Cauca (south west), leading to deaths of six fighters. Army 16 April killed one FARC dissident in clash in Guaviare (south). Army also killed civilian and former FARC fighter in Norte de Santander (north east) 22 April, leading to widespread condemnation; army general 28 April apologised for killing.
President Duque’s objections to Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP), transitional justice mechanism created under 2016 peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to handle cases deriving from govt-FARC conflict, fuelled concerns over impact on wider peace deal, while violence along Pacific Coast continued at high levels, particularly involving National Liberation Army (ELN). Duque in live televised address 10 March announced objections to six articles from law establishing SJP. Congress due to consider Duque objections and vote on them or modify SJP; observers voiced concerns that objections could lead to changes to SJP that would overload it with cases or undermine former FARC members’ confidence in transitional justice, and ultimately boost FARC dissident group recruitment. Opposition responded with speech and protests in Bogotá and other cities 18 March, attended by thousands. Constitutional Court announced it will review objections 20 June, regardless of outcome in Congress. In north east, ELN guerrilla group continued attacks on security forces including ambush on soldiers in Catatumbo 9 March, killing three soldiers and two civilians. ELN 8 March carried out numerous attacks in Arauca (east) to coincide with Duque’s visit to region, including improvised explosive devices (IED) that wounded five soldiers, attack on police station in town of Fortúl, and reportedly killing an engineer it had previously kidnapped. Fighting broke out 11 March between ELN and Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, country’s main drug trafficking group) in Chocó (west), trapping indigenous tribes in their territory, blocking access to food and leading to death of five children from starvation. High levels of violence along Pacific coast continued as clashes between armed groups that began 28 Feb caused displacement of 150 families from Tumaco into Ecuador. Political killings of community activists continued; armed group known as “Accountants” 17 March reportedly killed Argemiro López, local community leader of coca substitution processes, in La Guayacana, Nariño (south west).
National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group continued attacks on security forces, while Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident-related violence and attacks on social leaders remained high. ELN 18 Feb killed two policemen along bridge connecting Colombia and Venezuela in Arauca (east) and two more next day in Nariño (south west). ELN also bombed Caño Limón, Colombia’s longest oil pipeline in north east, three times during month following similar attacks in 2018. Relations with Venezuela remained strained over alleged Venezuelan support for ELN, continuing mass exodus of Venezuelans across border and Bogotá’s support for Venezuelan opposition (see Venezuela). Army 2 Feb bombed camp belonging to FARC dissidents led by Gentil Duarte in Caquetá province (south), killing Duarte’s second-in-command alias “Cadete” along with nine other fighters. Dissidents reportedly from First Front faction 3 Feb killed policeman in Arauca. In Tumaco (south west), violence between dissident groups and drug traffickers continued with clashes along Mejicano River 2-3 Feb, in which at least two and possibly up to nine fighters were killed. Dissidents 4 Feb killed two people in attack on town of Llorente, Tumaco. Murders of community activists continued with three activists murdered in Antioquia province (north west), two in Cauca and one each in La Guajira (north east), Norte de Santander (north) and Nariño.
Peace talks between govt and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group fell apart following deadly ELN car bomb, leading to fears of open conflict and worsening violence along border with Venezuela and Pacific coast. Car bomb struck police academy in Bogotá 17 Jan, killing 21 police officers (as well as driver) and injuring over 60, third deadliest attack in city’s history and most deadly for fifteen years; President Duque next day announced reinstatement of arrest warrants against ELN delegation at peace talks in Havana, Cuba, effectively ending peace talks. ELN 21 Jan claimed responsibility for bomb, however hours later its leadership in Havana denied knowledge of the attack before it took place. Earlier in month, ELN increased rate of attacks following end of unilateral ceasefire 23 Dec-3 Jan, including shooting down helicopter that was transporting money in Norte de Santander province (north east) 13 Jan, stealing money and kidnapping crew. Following 21 Dec death of alias “Guacho”, leader of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Oliver Sinisterra front, alias “The Gringo” took over as group leader. Dissident violence eased after main armed groups in Tumaco (south west) 13 Dec agreed truce after high levels of violence hindered narco-trafficking in area; two reported homicides in Tumaco since truce came into effect. Deadline for country’s largest drug trafficking group Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces (AGC) to state it was willing to surrender to govt ran out 9 Jan, although group respected unilateral ceasefire 8 Dec-10 Jan. Killings of community activists remained high with six murdered in first six days of Jan alone including Maritza Quiroz Leiva, Afro-Colombian leader and environmental activist, shot dead 6 Jan at her farm near Santa Marta, Magdalena department (north).
Govt refused to reciprocate National Liberation Army (ELN) Christmas truce, fuelling fears it may abandon the currently-suspended peace process, while Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident groups continued to strengthen and carry out violence across country. ELN 17 Dec announced unilateral truce 23 Dec-3 Jan; govt responded that armed forces would continue to operate throughout country, including against ELN; President Duque reiterated conditions to continue talks with ELN are release of kidnapping victims and end to criminal activities. ELN attack on road between Medellín, Antioquia province (north west) and Caribbean coast killed civilian 8 Dec. In continuing FARC dissident violence, 33rd front dissident group 10 Dec reportedly kidnapped ten Venezuelan refugee minors in town of La Gabarra, Catatumbo (north east); military 21 Dec killed alias “Guacho”, leader of dissident Oliver Sinisterra front, in operation near Ecuadoran border (south west). In other violence, unknown assailants 17 Dec shot and killed six people including teenage boy in Mapiripán, Meta (centre), in area where First front FARC dissident group and Puntilleros drug trafficking group both operate. Authorities 4 Dec killed Puntilleros commander alias “Puntilla” during operation in Medellín. Reports emerged that in early Oct, certain FARC dissident leaders and ELN mid-level commanders met in Venezuela to coordinate economic activities along Venezuelan border area and discuss political cooperation. Country’s largest drug trafficking group Gaitanista Self-Defence Forces (AGC) declared unilateral truce 8 Dec-10 Jan. Political killings of community activists continued, including murder of two indigenous leaders in Cauca 6-7 Dec. FM Carlos Holmes Trujillo 30 Dec announced govt had uncovered “credible” plot to assassinate President Duque, and had arrested three Venezuelans in connection with alleged plot earlier in Dec.