Colombia: no ceasefire during peace talks

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos rejected a proposal Sept. 6 by the FARC rebels for a bilateral ceasefire during talks set to begin in Norway next month, aimed at bringing an end to the country's long civil war. In an address at Tolemaida military base outside Bogotá, Santos pledged that the counter-insurgency campaign would continue across "every centimeter" of the country. "I have asked that military operations be intensified, that there will be no ceasefire of any kind," Santos said. "We won't cede anything at all until we reach the final agreement. That should be very clear."

The proposal was issued by FARC  political representative Mauricio Jaramillo at a press conference in Havana, held to reveal the names of those who are to represent the guerillas at the peace talks. In calling for the ceasefire, Jaramillo pledged the guerillas "are fully committed to the surrendering of arms and demobilization." With regard to the release of hostages—a key government demand—he asserted that the guerillas "no longer retain any." Adding to this, fellow FARC spokesman Ricardo Tellez said that "in consultation with all the Fronts we have confirmed that they don't have any civilian hostages, that would be a violation of the internal mandates of the FARC." While the FARC earlier this year released the last members of the security forces it was holding, rights groups believe it continues to hold scores and possibly hundreds of civilian captives.

Even as both sides prepare for the Oslo meetings, hostilities continue. The FARC blew up two trucks in an attack at El Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira department Sept. 4. Two days later, "Danilo García," commander the the FARC's 33rd Front and a close confidant of the guerillas' top commander "Timochenko," was killed in a Colombian Air Force strike in Norte de Santander department. (Colombia ReportsReuters, LAHT, Noticiero del Llano, Villavicencio, Sept. 6; La Semana, Bogotá, Sept. 4; AFP, Aug. 30)

Talks with Cauca indigenous movement clouded by violence
On Aug. 31, six people were injured and nearly 100 homes were damaged in a pre-dawn bomb attack on an office of the Fiscalía, Colombia's attorney general, in Popayán, capital of southwestern Cauca department. While nobody took credit, authorities blamed the attack on the FARC. The attack targeted the local office in Barrio Valencia, in the south of the city, of the Immediate Reaction Unit, a new investigative body recently formed to respond to social violence. (Colombia Reports, Radio Santa Fe, Bogotá, Aug. 31)

The blast came as talks are underway in Cauca between the government and traditional indigenous leaders demanding the demilitarization of their lands. On Aug. 16, responding to the indigenous movement's demands, President Santos met with traditional leaders who had gathered at the Guambiano resguardo (indigenous reserve) of La Maria Piendamó. A formal dialogue with the government negotiating team subsequently convened in Popayán, with the first table, "Land and Liberty," on indigenous territorial and autonomy rights. Subsequent tables are to address human rights, armed conflict and peace, and control of natural resources.

Indigenous demands include the cancelation of licenses for mining projects in indigenous territories; removal of an army base at Cerro Berlín in Toribio resguardo, a mountain held sacred by the Nasa indigenous inhabitants; and disbanding of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (OPIC), which indigenous leaders charge is a government-controlled entity created by former president Álvaro Uribe to divide the movement.

Cauca is one of the most conflicted of Colombia's 32 departments (administrative regions). The Association of Indigenous Cabildos of North Cauca (ACIN) reports daily fighting over the past several months between FARC and government forces on indigenous lands, with Toribio being one of the most impacted resguardos. A National Police bunker established in the resguardo's central village has drawn repeated improvised explosive attacks from the FARC, leaving scores of civilian residents injured, up to 40 houses damaged, and hundreds homeless. In June, a similar attack at Miranda village, north of Toribio, left a child dead. (ACIN, Aug. 31; Colombia Reports, Aug. 30; IPS, Aug. 16; Arcoiris, Bogotá, July 14)

The government also claims Cauca is fast growing as a source of illegal drug crops under guerilla control. National Police  director José Roberto León testified before Colombia's congress last month that the FARC control 93% of coca and cannabis crops in Cauca department, and that the recent increase in violence there is related to the FARC's effort to maintain control of strategic cultivation lands and trafficking routes. León charged that the FARC's elite 6th Front is in charge of drug cultivation and smuggling in the department as a means to "seek sources of financing through drug trafficking for the secretariat," the guerilla organization's highest political command. (Colombia Reports, Aug. 18; El Tiempo, Bogotá, Aug. 17)