Colombia’s ongoing peace negotiations between the government and FARC rebels entered a critical phase on Tuesday as the two sides near agreements on key issues that would pave the way for a bilateral cease-fire ending 50-year armed conflict.
The new round of peace talks in Havana, Cuba, continues discussions on the issues of reparations for victims and reaching an end to the armed conflict.
The renewed peace negotiations come as the FARC has questioned whether the entire peace process might collapse in the face of a resurgence of paramilitary activity and threats that undermine the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire. The group says that the two issues are major challenges to overcome if the negotiations are to stay afloat and achieve peace.
“Paramilitarism and harassment of the unilateral truce grow in unison.”
“Paramilitarism and harassment of the unilateral ceasefire decreed by the FARC are manifestations of the warmongering view ingrained in the official armed forces and are a major cause of confrontation,” FARC spokesperson Marco Calarcá wrote in a statement Monday. “Now in times of constructing peace with social justice through dialogue they set the two main obstacles to overcome in the talks.”
Colombia’s Broad Front for Peace warned of possible threats to the peace process due to “dangerous trends,” particularly “the increasing presence of paramilitaries and increasing troops.”
Representatives of the Broad Front for Peace will travel to Havana during this round of negotiations to help ensure the current unilateral ceasefire, launched by the FARC on July 20, does not break down in the face of these threats, recently condemned by the FARC.
“The Broad Front for Peace meets urgent threats to the FARC ceasefire.”
The head of Colombia’s Communist Party and member of the Broad Front for Peace, Jaime Caycedo, reiterated concerns about paramilitaries on Tuesday, saying that the resurgence of paramilitaries and militarization of FARC guerilla zones could jeopardize the peace process, Prensa Latina reported.
“We must prevent situations that generate clashes and pretexts (for violence) in order to move toward a bilateral cease-fire,” said Caycedo, calling for authorities to listen to the needs and concern of conflict-affected communities and focus on dismantling paramilitary forces.
In an interview with teleSUR Tuesday, Colombian Senator and human rights defender Ivan Cepeda said that the first step to tackling this major challenge in Colombia is “acknowledging that paramilitarism exists in Colombia,” which he linked to what he calls “para-economics and para-politics.”
Cepeda also stressed the importance of concrete measures within agreements reached between the government and the FARC in order to reach a bilateral ceasefire and a definitive end to armed hostilities.
“A humanitarian dialogue in the regions is necessary to de-escalate the conflict.” – Ivan Cepeda
The FARC and Colombian government reached a historic agreement on Oct. 18 to begin the search, identification and return of people “disappeared” during the half-century of armed conflict.
A month earlier, on Sep. 23, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timochenko signed a landmark accord regarding transitional justice for victims, partially fulfilling the fifth point of the negotiations process and marking an important step toward peace.
RELATED: Colombian Peace Process Timeline
Reaching a full agreement in the fifth area of negotiations regarding the rights of victims is a key step in the peace process. President Santos announced last week that a bilateral cease-fire could be on the table as of Jan. 1, 2016, if the two sides can reach an agreement on the fifth area.
The FARC launched a unilateral cease-fire July 20. Although the Colombian government also agreed to de-escalate agressions against the armed revolutionary group for four months, it was not deemed a cease-fire.
According to Cepeda, the FARC cease-fire has had a positive impact in several areas of the country, despite the simultaneous resurgence of paramilitary activity.
Colombia’s peace negotiations have been ongoing since 2012. The process seeks an end to over 50 years of armed conflict involving guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, state security forces and drug traffickers that has left some 220,000 dead and 6 million displaced.