The Colombian government signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) after a third round of peace talks in Ecuador's capital Quito Sept. 4. The first-ever bilateral ceasefire in the 53-year history of the guerilla organization came two days before Pope Francis is to arrive in Colombia. The ceasefire is to formally take effect Oct. 1, to be renewed in January if peace talks continue to progress. As part of the deal, Colombia's government pledged to suspend military operations against the group, improve conditions for imprisoned ELN members, and protect human rights defenders. (El Espectador, Las 2 Orillas, Jurist)
The United Nations on July 14 charged that Colombia's government is undermining the country's peace process by failing to release imprisoned FARC members and protect disarmed guerillas. In an unusually harsh statement, the UN Mission in Colombia said the government should “act responsibly and swiftly to put an end to a situation that weakens peace building." More than 3,400 FARC members remain in prison six months after the congressional approval of the Amnesty Law and two weeks after the completion of the guerilla army's disarmament. More than 1,400 imprisoned FARC members have gone on hunger strike, demanding the government release them as promised in the peace deal signed on Nov. 24 last year and ratified by Congress shortly after. Only 837 imprisoned FARC members have been released.
Colombian leaders declared an official completion of the FARC disarmament process in a June 27 ceremony at Mesetas, in Meta department. UN monitors symbolically padlocked the last containers of weapons turned over by the guerillas, as FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" announced "Farewell to arms, farewall to war!" President Juan Manuel Santos presented Timochenko with a gold-plated shovel made from an old machine gun as a symbol of peace, and a cloud of yellow butterlies was released (a reference to Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude). But the UN special representative for Colombia acknowledged that the "re-integration" of the 10,000 former FARC fighters into society will be difficult. Days after the ceremony at Mesetas, Jean Arnault told the UN Security Council that FARC members have "a deep sense of uncertainty" about their economic future and physical security following their disarmament. (AP, June 30; FT, EFE, June 27)
A UN human rights expert warned June 20 that the Central African Republic (CAR) "must act now" to protect its population and implement justice. According to Marie-Thérèse Keita Bocoum, the expert on human rights for the CAR, armed groups are spreading throughout the country at a worrying rate, and a lack of response from the government to defend civilians has led to revenge attacks, public outrage, and "cries of distress" from citizens. The announcement from the UN comes on the heels of a peace accord signed by the CAR and most of the armed groups, aimed at ending the ethnic and religious conflict that has killed thousands. The peace accord was mediated by the Roman Catholic Sant'Egidio peace group (which brokered the end of the civil war in Mozambique in 1992) and was signed in Rome.
The "Kabul Process" peace talks opened in Afghanistan's capital this week, drawing representatives from 20 countries and international organizations—but none from the Taliban or other insurgent groups. President Ashraf Ghani's own foreign minister apparently even boycotted the gathering as a farce. Meanwhile, anti-government protesters continued to defy orders to leave camps they had set up in the city, demanding that top security officials step down for failing to stop relentless attacks. Despite extreme security measures, at least one rocket was fired into the Green Zone near where the meeting was being held. As the meeting opened, Ghani admitted that over 150 people were killed and more than 300 were wounded in the truck bombing outside the German Embassy last week, making it possibly the deadliest such attack since the US-led invasion in 2001. And heavy fighting was reported in the countryside, clashes between the army and Taliban leaving high numbers dead in Kunduz province. (Khaama Press, Khaama Press, June 11; NYT, June 6)
After a near-breakdown in Colombia's peace process last month, Colombia's government is scrambling to revive the disarmament and demobilization of the FARC guerillas—under pressure from a citizen mobilization. The popular networks Marcha Patriótica and Congreso de los Pueblos joined on June 1 for a youth demonstration in support of the peace process, with some 600 holding vigil in downtown Bogotá. (El Espectador June 1; Contagio Radio, May 31) A new deadline of June 20 has now been set for FARC fighters to turn over all their weapons. UN monitors and the FARC say that 30% of the arms have now been handed over to the UN team overseeing the disarmament. (BBC News, June 8; El Espectador, May 30)
The FARC rebels are on "high alert" following a May 17 ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court, striking down congressional "fast track" authority for legislation related to the country's peace process. Under "fast track" rules, Colombia's Congress could only vote to approve or deny reforms related to implementing the peace process, rather than debating and voting on each point individually. The ruling comes less than two weeks before "D+180," the date marking 180 days from the start of the FARC demobilization process, by which time it was slated to be complete. (InSight Crime, May 19; TeleSur, May 18, Semana, May 17)
Separatist group Basque Homeland & Liberty (ETA) said in an April 16 communique that it has not abandoned its goal of an independent Basque state along the French-Spanish border despite giving up its arms. The statement published in the Basque newspaper Gara said disarmament "wasn't going to be a bargaining chip, but rather a way to show the intransigence of the [Spanish and French] states and to further the independence movement." It added that the separatist group has entered a phase in which it would take "decisions from among all its members for moving forward." The statement comes two weeks after ETA gave French authorities a list of eight arms caches at locations in the Pyrenees, said to represent the last of the group's weapons. A citizen International Verification Commission served as a liaison between ETA and the authorities.