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Amid continued armed groups’ violence, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced it will not extend one-month COVID-19 ceasefire. After ELN 1 April began unilateral ceasefire as “humanitarian gesture” amid COVID-19, govt’s High Commissioner for Peace Miguel Ceballos immediately called ceasefire insufficient, said ELN should “extend [its] terms indefinitely” and release hostages as pre-conditions to any ELN-govt talks; in statement, ELN 27 April said it will not extend ceasefire into May, citing govt’s failure to reciprocate with good-will gesture. Despite ceasefire, ELN throughout month clashed with other armed groups in Chocó (west) and Cauca (south west) provinces. Notably, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN led to displacement in Chocó, including early-April clashes causing 37 indigenous families to flee Guayabal town. Clashes between Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident group Columna Mobil Carlos Patiño, ELN and army in Argelia and Tambo municipalities, Cauca, killed at least eight 14 April. Govt 10 April announced capture of FARC dissident group member reportedly responsible for several murders of social leaders in Putumayo province (south). Amid govt’s efforts to eradicate coca cultivation across country, allegedly including restarting of aerial spraying to destroy crops, coca cultivators and armed forces 22 April reportedly clashed in Putumayo and Norte de Santander (north east) provinces. Isolated protests erupted over govt’s handling of COVID-19 crisis. In capital Bogotá and second-largest city Medellín, protesters from mid-April demonstrated almost daily against movement restriction, delays in distribution of food aid, and alleged corruption in management of aid; attempts at looting food were reported in Medellín 14-15 April.
Amid spread of COVID-19, govt closed border with Venezuela while National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas announced unilateral ceasefire. In response to coronavirus, govt 14 March increased military presence along official border crossings with Venezuela to prevent all entries, despite risk of pushing more refugees from Venezuela toward illegal crossings manned by armed groups. ELN 29 March announced unilateral ceasefire until 30 April as “humanitarian gesture”, urged govt to suspend military operations and reconsider dialogue with its negotiating team in Havana, Cuba. Prisoners in a Bogotá jail 21 March rioted over alleged lack of measures to prevent spread of virus; clashes with security forces left 23 inmates dead. Hundreds of day labourers 23 March protested across country against govt decision to impose three-week nationwide quarantine beginning 24 March. Supreme Court 5 March said it had opened investigation into allegations of vote-buying by President Duque’s Democratic Centre party during 2018 presidential elections. ELN conflict with other groups continued. In Chocó province (west), govt early March reported 61,000 people under severe threat in municipalities of Riosucio and Carmen del Darién amid ongoing violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), one of country’s main drug trafficking groups, and ELN. In Norte de Santander province (north east), over 20,000 residents of municipalities of Hacarí, La Playa de Belén and Ábrego remained trapped in March as clashes between ELN and armed group linked to drug trade Ejército Popular de Liberación continued. U.S. increased pressure on govt to redouble efforts against coca cultivation, with President Trump urging Duque to use aerial spraying to destroy crops during meeting in Washington 2 March. In yearly report on Colombia released 4 March, UN human rights office raised concerns about escalating levels of violence, including 36 mass killings and 108 killings of human rights defenders and community leaders in 2019; govt disputed report’s findings.
Violence flared in west and east as armed groups held “armed strike”, while clashes elsewhere continued to lead to mass displacement. National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas and dissident Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) groups 14-17 Feb held “armed strike” to protest against govt in all territories under their control, particularly in Cauca (south west), Norte de Santander (north east) and Arauca (east) provinces, designating as “military target” any shop opening or vehicle moving without permission. Military recorded 119 planned attacks in total during strike – of which it thwarted 94 – particularly in Cauca: seven people killed 17 Feb in Rosas when their van exploded – security forces disputed initial reports of car bomb; four members of indigenous community assassinated 14-18 Feb, three in Buenos Aires and one in Miranda, prompting indigenous authorities to activate early warning systems in six autonomous territories in Cauca; armed forces 17 Feb said they defused twelve explosive devices likely left by FARC dissident “Nuevo Sexto” front in Cauca alone during strike. Military 16 Feb clashed with ELN faction in Convención, Norte de Santander, one army captain killed. President Duque 14 Feb said ELN acts such as armed strike shut door to possible govt-ELN negotiations on demobilisation, disarmament and reinsertion. In Chocó (west) and Nariño (south west) provinces, violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking groups) and ELN continued to lead to displacement; notably, 1,600 were displaced from rural areas to towns in Roberto Payán, Nariño early Feb. After govt late Jan announced two new special permits for Venezuelans to stay in Colombia, UN refugee agency 4 Feb welcomed move, said 100,000 Venezuelans may qualify. National protests against pension reform, lack of education funding, political corruption, perceived failure to advance 2016 peace accord with FARC, and to prevent killing of rights activists restarted 21 Feb with demonstrations in major cities.
Allegations of extrajudicial surveillance by military intelligence shook govt, while clashes between armed groups continued notably in west, displacing civilians along Pacific Coast. After President Duque late Dec replaced head of military Nicacio Martínez, citing personal reasons, local media 13 Jan reported govt dismissed Martínez after discovering that he oversaw illegal surveillance of Supreme Court judges, opposition members and journalists, allegedly using technology intended for combating armed groups; Martínez denied accusations but attorney general opened investigation same day. Duque 9 Jan reported security improvements in 2019, notably 48% drop in kidnappings; but UN Human Rights spokesperson 14 Jan said “staggering number” of human rights defenders killed in 2019 raised concerns for peace process between govt and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Killings of social and community leaders spiked with 27 social leaders and five demobilised former FARC combatants reportedly killed throughout month. In Chocó (west), violence between Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC, one of country’s main drug trafficking group) and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group continued, leading to more displacement; govt 9 Jan reported 80 community members displaced in Nuquí municipality following 5 Jan murder of indigenous leader. Community groups continued to call on govt to re-open talks with ELN to reduce violence. ELN early Jan offered several olive branches, symbol of peace, to govt; however govt maintained conditions that ELN release all hostages and unilaterally halt attacks and 16 Jan requested Cuba extradite ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias “Gabino”. Govt 12 Jan said it had thwarted plot to kill FARC political leader Rodrigo Londoño, alias “Timochenko”, reportedly orchestrated by FARC dissident leaders. National protests against pension reform, lack of education funding, political corruption, perceived failure to advance 2016 peace accord with FARC, and to prevent killing of rights activists restarted 21 Jan with massive demonstrations in major cities.
National Strike continued to pressure govt of President Duque, whose planned “National Conversation” talks did little to quell protests, while attacks and clashes involving armed groups continued, displacing civilians along Pacific Coast. Coalition of university and workers’ unions, peace activists, indigenous leaders and opposition continued to demand govt directly negotiate with strike organisers on growing list of demands; tens of thousands joined protests on 6 Dec in Bogotá, Cali, Bucaramanga, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and several smaller cities. Govt 2 Dec agreed to hold separate dialogue directly with strike organisers; on 26 Dec announced minimum wage increase of 6%, largest increase in recent history. Strike leaders who also resurrected calls for govt to restart direct negotiations with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, suspended since Jan 2019. Duque 10 Dec said door to negotiations remained open, but ELN must release all hostages and unilaterally halt attacks. Car bomb attributed to ELN exploded in Boyacá department at military base close to Venezuelan border 12 Dec, wounding at least three; Duque said attack indicated ELN did not want peace. Violence and clashes between Gaitanista criminal cartel (AGC) and ELN continued to displace five Afro and indigenous communities in Alto Baudó (Chocó), with govt early Dec reporting 3,200 displaced in November. Both groups seeking to consolidate control over corridor connecting coca-producing areas in Bajo Cauca (Antioquia) to Pacific coast. Elsewhere, combat escalated along Pacific coast communities in Nariño between armed forces and FARC dissidents, displacing several hundred civilians; military early Dec reported FARC dissidents and others increasingly deploying improvised explosive devices. A young couple, both environmental activists, was killed 20 Dec in rural area outside Atlantic city of Santa Marta; 24 Dec social leader Lucy Villarreal was assassinated in Tumaco, Nariño. Duque announced 27 Dec he was replacing head of military Nicacio Martínez, whose year-long tenure was plagued by scandals over past association with “false positive” assassinations, pressure on soldiers to capture and kill combatants. New army chief is Eduardo Zapateiro.