Colombia on Wednesday marked the fifth anniversary of the signing of historic peace accords that ended a nearly six-decade conflict that has left tens of thousands dead and left a legacy of violence.
Former combatants, victims’ representatives, the government and the UN chief gathered at the headquarters of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a tribunal set up to try the worst crimes of the conflict that made some nine million people killed, injured, kidnapped or displaced.
“We insist on apologizing to the victims of our actions during the conflict,” Rodrigo Londono, a former commander of the former guerrilla group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), said at the ceremony in Bogota.
“Our understanding of their pain grows in us every day and fills us with sorrow and shame,” said the fighter turned politician, formerly known by his war alias Tymoshenko.
Some 13,000 guerrillas have surrendered their arms since the signing of the peace pact in 2016, but violence persists in many parts of Colombia where FARC dissidents, who rejected the agreement, continue to fight paramilitary and rebel groups and drug traffickers in the world’s largest cocaine-producing country. .
Almost 300 former FARC combatants, since transformed into a minority political party, have been killed in the past five years.
Former President Juan Manuel Santos, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating with a guerrilla group he had already defeated militarily, said he was “satisfied” with the presence of his successor and political rival Ivan Duque at the commemoration of Wednesday.
Duque had in the past sought to change the peace agreement, which he and his right-wing party considered too lenient towards the FARC.
In the peace train
“The peace train that so many people had wanted to derail or stop continues on its way,” Santos said.
“President Duque has stepped on the peace train as we have seen with great satisfaction in recent times.”
Colombia is experiencing its most violent period since 2016 due to continued fighting between armed groups for control of drug fields, illegal gold mines and lucrative smuggling routes.
According to the Indepaz peace research institute, there are 90 armed groups with some 10,000 active members in the country.
They include more than 5,000 FARC dissidents who rejected the peace, some 2,500 members of the National Liberation Army or ELN – the last active guerrilla group in the country, and 2,500 other right-wing paramilitary fighters.
Last month, the UN warned that the deteriorating security situation posed a “considerable challenge” for the country’s peace accords in 2016.
UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Wednesday of the “risks to peace” posed by “armed groups linked to drug trafficking”.
“It is not too late to reverse this trend by concentrating all efforts (…)
Duque, for his part, reiterated a call for “total truth” to get out of the JEP, which has yet to deliver a verdict.
The court has the power to offer alternatives to jail time for people who confess their crimes and make reparations to victims – a system some fear criminals will get away with.
So far, former FARC commanders have been charged with kidnapping at least 21,000 people and recruiting 18,000 minors, while senior military officials are accused of killing some 6,400 civilians presented as guerrillas.
“All of us here want to see effective, timely and real justice,” Duque said.