An armed faction of Colombia’s disbanded FARC rebels has said they are ready to engage in peace talks with the government next month in what could mark a turning point for leftist President Gustavo Petro’s quest for “total peace”.
“We announce before the whole world that our delegates to the dialogue table with the Colombian state, headed by the national government, are already ready for May 16 of this year,” Ángela Izquierdo, spokeswoman for the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) armed group, told journalists on Sunday.
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Petro, a former member of the urban rebel group M-19, pledged to end six decades of an armed conflict that has killed more than 450,000 people by signing peace or surrender agreements with rebels and criminal gangs, in addition to fully implementing the pact with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The EMC is one of two breakaway factions of the FARC and is made up of former leaders and fighters who did not accept the 2016 peace deal that paved the way for FARC rebels to lay down arms and form a political party.
Attorney General Francisco Barbosa suspended arrest warrants against more than 20 EMC members in early March, which facilitated the start of peace talks to be held in the Llano del Yari, on the border between the departments of Meta and Caqueta, in the south of the country.
The group, made up of 3,530 people – 2,180 fighters and 1,350 auxiliaries – has maintained a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government since the beginning of the year.
The other dissident FARC faction is the Segunda Marquetalia, which in August 2019 returned to the armed struggle, claiming that the state failed to comply with the peace agreement.
Petro came to power last August with plans to bring “total peace” to a country scarred by decades of violence.
At the president’s initiative, a six-month ceasefire has been in place with FARC dissidents and other armed groups since January 1. But there have been setbacks.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group, which has been engaged in peace negotiations with the government since last November, refuted Petro’s announcement that it was part of the January truce.
Last month, Petro summoned government negotiators after ELN fighters killed nine soldiers and injured nine more.
Another round of talks with the ELN, or National Liberation Army, is scheduled for later this month in Cuba.
Also in March, the government suspended its truce with the Gulf Clan – the country’s largest drug cartel – after attacks on civilians and uniformed personnel.
Colombia’s opposition frequently criticises Petro for concessions he is willing to make to armed and criminal groups, for peace.
Last week, the government said the peace process with EMC was being “consolidated”.
Thousands of people who live in EMC-controlled areas turned out for a popular consultation on Sunday with the group’s leaders.