Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)
Colombia's Congress on Dec. 28 approved the Amnesty Law as part of the peace process between the government and the FARC rebel army, protecting guerilla fighters from prosecution over most crimes related to the conflict. The bill passed the lower house with 117 votes in favor and three against, while the Senate approved it with a unanimous 69 votes. Lawmakers aligned with far-right former president, Sen. Alvaro Uribe refused to participate in the vote. Human rights absues and "grave" war crimes recognized by the Rome Statute are excluded from the amnesty. The measure creates a special "transitional justice" system for combatants accused of such offenses. (Jurist, Dec. 29; TeleSur, EFE, Dec. 28)
Colombia's Constitutional Court on Dec. 13 approved the government's plan for "fast track" authority to expedite congressional approval of terms for a peace deal with the FARC rebels. The 8-1 ruling is a victory for President Juan Manuel Santos, who argued that the deal could collapse if delayed by debates during the traditional legislative process. The "fast track" process eliminates certain legislative sessions and limits changes lawmakers can make to the package. (Jurist, Dec. 14) On the eve of the ruling, Santos said that the rejection of the original peace pact in a national plebiscite was a "blessing in disguise," as it gave both sides the impetus to return to the table and negotiate a "better accord." (El Tiempo, Dec. 12)
A Kenyan government amnesty for Shabaab militants who renounce violence was supposed include guarantees for security and support for resettlement—generally in marginal areas, such as Majengo district, a low-income suburb of Nairobi. But both the security and aid have been elusive. A Human Rights Watch report in July alleged that security forces "have forcibly disappeared at least 34 people in the past two years during abusive counterterrorism operations in Nairobi and in northeastern Kenya." There are concerns that resettled ex-militants, receiving little aid and vulnerable to reprisal attacks, are ripe for being recuited again into the Somalia-based Shabaab network that now extends into Kenya.
With Colombia's Congress voting to approve the revised peace accord with the FARC rebels, the country is on a countdown to the full demobilization of the guerilla army. Both houses voted unanimously—75-0 in the Senate Nov. 30, and 130-0 in the Chamber of Deputies the following day. house ratified the pact a day after it was endorsed by the Senate, despite objections from the opposition. The agreement was approved in the lower house by 130-0, a day after the Senate ratified it 75-0. Lawmakers from Alvaro Uribe's hard-right opposition bloc walked out of both houses in protest before the votes were taken. President Juan Manuel Santos said that Dec. 1 is "D-Day," with the pact to be instituted immediately.
President Juan Manuel Santos announced Nov. 22 that he has developed a plan of action to address the ongoing wave of assassinations of social leaders across Colombia, calling it a necessity to secure the new peace deal with the FARC rebels. "This uncertainty is increasing the risks, and therefore the urgency of taking decisions," he said, although he failed to delineate specific actions. (El Tiempo, Nov. 22) The announcement comes as the Marcha Patriótica activist network has threatened a "National Civic Strike" if the wave of "citizen extermination" does not cease. By the group's count, the year 2016 has seen the assassination of 70 of its own leaders, with hundreds more threatened or surviving attempts on their lives. (Colombia Informa, Nov, 24)
For a second time in the space of a month, planned peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN guerillas in Quito broke down on the very eve of convening Nov. 22. An initial round of talks was suspended in late October, with Bogotá claiming the ELN did not meet the condition to release ex-congressman Odín Sánchez, being held by the guerillas in his native Chocó region. The Quito talks were set to open a second time when the ELN released a statement accusing the army of putting Sánchez's life at risk by increasing operations in Chocó. Government negotiators did travel to Quito for the talks, to be brokered by Monseñor Darío de Jesús Monsalve, the archbishop of Cali. With the dialogue stalled, fighting continues on the ground. On Nov. 13, presumed ELN fighters blew up a section of the Trans-Andean Pipeline in Nariño region, spilling oil into the Río Guiza. (AFP, Nov. 26; El Tiempo, Nov. 25; El Espectador, Nov. 21; Contagio Radio, Nov. 17; Colombia Reports, Nov. 14; Colombia Reports, Nov. 3)
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono AKA "Timochenko" signed a new peace agreement Nov. 24 to replace the one signed in September but turned down by voters in a national plebiscite. Santos and Timochenko signed the 310-page agreement in a ceremony at the Colon Theater in Bogotá, a short distance from the government palace. Attended by some 800, the ceremony was austere compared the one celebrated in Cartagena in September, at which there were over 2,000 guests, including 14 heads of state, and an aerobatic show by the Colombian air force. However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sent a statement this time around, expressing his "hopes that Colombians will come together at this time to move the peace process forward."