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  • Colombia was once known as the kidnapping capital of the world.

    Colombia was once known as the kidnapping capital of the world. | Photo: EFE

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Smaller paramilitary groups continue to wreak havoc in rural parts of Colombia, underscoring the country's precarious peace. 

In recent years Colombia has been able to shake off the infamous title of the kidnapping capital of the world, but as peace is slowly implemented, the threats of paramilitarism continues as eight people have been kidnapped by smaller and still active paramilitary groups just in the last 12 days.

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As the FARC demobilized as part of the peace accords with the government, this opened up areas for paramilitary groups to fill, particularly in the western Choco department – one of the areas most affected by the country’s five-decade-long civil war.

Since April 8, at least six adults and two children have been kidnapped by Los Urabeños in the Bajo Baudo municipality, Choco Ombudsman Luis Murillo told El Tiempo. Murillo added that it was difficult to search for people in the rural areas and that 20 out of Choco's 30 municipalities were at risk from paramilitary violence.

Currently Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the right-wing paramilitary group Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or “Los Urabeños,” are battling for control of the region known for its gold and important drug trafficking routes.

Mayor of Bajo Baudo, Jhon Jared Murillo, said that amid the ongoing confrontations, Los Urabeños “are monopolizing the land,” where there is little state security presence in the region. “The advances made with the peace process in the rest of the province are lost for these communities.”

As part of “Plan Victoria,” the Colombian military planned to help secure former FARC strongholds with 65,000 troops across 160 municipalities, but critics say that ongoing kidnappings, violence and displacements shows that the presence has fallen short of what was promised.

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The Colombian government is currently in peace negotiations with the ELN and both sides appear confident of the negotiation’s progress. However, there is no peace process for right-wing paramilitary groups like Los Urabeños.

In 2016, there were 205 kidnappings in Colombia, where the majority were linked to criminals without association to the FARC or ELN, according to police. In 2000, the country recorded over 3,500 kidnappings.

The FARC has apologized for the “great pain” that their kidnappings had on the country ahead of signing the peace accords with the government last year. A key part of the accords includes the Special Jurisdiction for Peace – a post-conflict transitional justice system for crimes committed during the conflict – where the FARC has promised to reveal their involvement in crimes including kidnappings.

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