Specter of Violence Returns in Colombia as FARC Ends Ceasefire

Twenty-six guerrilla fighters were killed by an army air strike in Colombia on Thursday night. (Radio Santa Fe)

EspañolSerious fighting returned to Colombia last week, with the death of 26 members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in an army attack in Cauca department on Thursday. The guerrilla subsequently announced on Friday the end of a unilateral ceasefire declared in December. Now, experts on the armed conflict believe that violence could return to levels not seen since before the beginning of the ongoing peace process in Cuba.

General Jaime Ruíz Barrera, director of the Colombian Association of Retired Military Officers (ACORE), warned that the FARC had never observed a genuine ceasefire, instead maintaining hostilities and targeting military units in several parts of Colombia.

“In recent months, they kidnapped a journalist in the north of the country, and they continue to carry out illegal activities, with the aim of intimidating and terrorizing the country. They’re experts at this, this is no ceasefire. This attack doesn’t change the situation, but it was an action by the army in favor of the country,” the retired soldier said.

The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office also issued a statement following last week’s events, highlighting the possibility of the guerrilla launching a wave of attacks in at least 10 regions of the country after withdrawing the ceasefire.

“Antioquía, Cauca, Chocó, Arauca, Putumayo, Huila, Nariño, Meta, Caquetá, and Valle del Cauca are some of the regions where the presence of this illegal group means that a scenario of risk looms, with possible attacks against the armed forces, with eventual indiscriminate effects for the civilian population,” it reads.

Ombudsman Jorge Armando Otálora Gómez used the opportunity to appeal for calm, and highlighted the need to minimize the impact of armed clashes to guarantee the safety of civilians and respect for international law.

A Reverse for the Peace Process

Ariel Ávila, a researcher for the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, told the PanAm Post that Thursday’s attack and FARC’s announcement on Friday will likely prove a setback to talks, and will spread mistrust among the rural population of the country.

“The first thing is that before negotiations there were between 1,800 and 2,000 armed actions every year, and in the last six months of truce this dropped to 114 episodes; that’s to say, it was working. Secondly, while the attack won’t end negotiations, it will damage the image of peace in public opinion. It’s very difficult for people to understand that both sides are negotiating in the middle of an armed conflict,” Ávila said.

Earlier on Friday, President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the death of 26 guerrilla fighters in an address to the nation. Santos explained that after an initial aerial bombardment, there were gun battles in the Colombian Pacific area, a key zone for guerrilla operations, particularly drug trafficking.

Santos reported that a civilian teenager who was wounded in the middle of operations is now receiving medical attention.

The Colombian Ministry of Defense initially signaled that 18 FARC combatants were killed, along with two captured. While the president made no reference to those captured, he reported that 37 guerrilla rifles and an M60 machine gun were taken out of action.

“We’ve spent 50 years confronting the threat that these people represent. We’ve responded and we’ve prevented what they want, which is to win power. This attack simply doesn’t change the situation. Everything the army is doing is in defense of the country,” the ACORE director added.

He argued that the only beneficiary of the Havana talks is FARC, as negotiations have given it time to regroup and gain ground. “They’re putting spokes in the wheel to slow down the process and play for time. With these offensive actions, it gives them the message that things are serious, and that we want to solve the problem.”

Ávila suggested that the presidential order to attack members of FARC’s 29th Front on Thursday in Cauca will likely lead to a spike in attacks.

“We’re returning to an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. The intensity of the conflict will return to its normal standard, and I hope that it won’t occur to the government to kill any member of the FARC leadership, or the rebels don’t decide to do something seriously stupid, because this would throw away everything they’ve achieved around the negotiating table,” he warned.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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