ELN and Paramilitary Fighting Displaces Hundreds of Colombians

As the FARC begins to disarm, other paramilitary groups continue to fuel violence across the country.

Hundreds of Colombians were displaced in the country’s northwest over the weekend as fighting erupted between members of the National Liberation Army, ELN, and Colombia's paramilitary group, Gaitanistas Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AGC, commonly known as “Los Urabeños.”

RELATED: Colombia Pardons First FARC Troops Under Amnesty Law

According to reports, a group of around 200  “Urabeños” attempted to push out ELN forces from the Baudo region in the northwestern Choco province. They arrived in the Peña Azul community on Saturday by boat and started firing indiscriminately into the community while screaming that they had come to kill ELN troops.

Over 300 people were displaced by the fighting, including children and elderly, and fled north to Pie de Pato, according to AFP.

While it was unclear if there were any civilian casualties or injuries from the fighting, the ombudsman of the Choco department, Luis Enrique Murillo, warned that there were still eight families from Peña Azul who could not leave the community and whose location remained unknown.The region has been known as a stronghold of Colombia’s second-largest rebel army, the ELN, who have recently been seeking a peace deal with the Colombian government similar to the one reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s biggest rebel group.

“Los Urabeños” evolved from the officially disbanded  “United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia,” or AUC, a right-wing group that supposedly demobilized between 2003 and 2006 during the government of former President Alvaro Uribe.

RELATED: Indigenous Bari Campesinos Face Colombia Paramilitary Violence

While peace between the FARC and the government was reached in November and the rebel group continues to demobilize, other paramilitary groups continue to operate throughout the country with deadly consequences.

The current government under Juan Manuel Santos has claimed that paramilitary groups do not exist and have demobilized. Yet paramilitary groups continue to wreak havoc in the vacuums created by the FARC,  leaving rural leaders and human rights defenders vulnerable, partially with the lack of state protection.

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Colombia Thanks Cuba for Supporting Peace Process

Colombians in solidarity with Cuba will be traveling the island next Saturday to thank Cuban support for the peace talks with the FARC-EP and the ElN, according to coordinators.

We will never finish off paying Cubans generously for supporting the peace negotiations with the FARC-EP and the equally insurgent ELN, one of the organizers, Alirio Uribe stated.

In a press conference, the lawmaker stressed that Cuba has been witnessing of the public meetings with that first guerrilla for four years.

On November 24, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC-EP leader Timoleon Jiménez signed the final agreement, by pledging to end clashes and hostilities between both parties.

The members of the Colombian delegation, among them representatives of 'Vamos para los derechos' group, will be our spokespeople, the objective is to say to a brother people: here we are and we want to thank you, the parliamentarian stressed.

During the official stay, they will pay homage to the Cuban historic leader, Fidel Castro.

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A Sculpture in Cuba to Be Dedicated to Gabriel García Márquez

Havana, Feb 9 (Prensa Latina) Cuban sculptor José Villa Soberón is giving the final touch to a sculpture of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize in Literature, to be revealed in Cuba.

The piece already exists in Colombia, as it was requested to the Cuban artist and was placed in the Museum of the Caribbean in Barranquilla, but the present ambassador of that South American country in Havana, Gustavo Bell, insisted on also locating a copy here, in a city that was visited many times by the author.

According to Villa Soberón, the context of the 26th edition of the International Book Fair, taking place in the Cuban capital from February 9 to 19, provides the right environment, as the event also salutes García Márquez for the 90 years of his birth and the 50th anniversary of the publication of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The garden of the Lyceum of Arts and Literature of Havana, in the Marques de Arcos Palace, within the historic center of the city, will host the sculpture inspired by the moment when the prolific writer and journalist attended the Nobel Prize-winning ceremony of Literature in Stockholm, Sweden.

Many people were dressed in tailcoats with their decorations on the chest, while Garcia Marquez arrived with a liquiliqui (a traditional costume of the Llanos, a geographic region between Venezuela and Colombia), recalled Villa Soberón in conversation with Prensa Latina.

In one of his hands, he brought some books and in the other a yellow flower, added the winner of the National Prize of Plastic Arts in Cuba in 2008.

As he confessed, he agrees to work only when he chooses an image with which he can connect, and this one caught him immediately.

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Nobel Peace laureates denounce Trump ‘hate’ speech

Nobel Peace Prize winners have condemned US President Donald Trump at a gathering at which their host accused him of “a discourse of hate” against immigrants.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, the prize’s latest winner for progress towards ending his country’s civil war, yesterday opened the four-day summit of peace prize winners in Bogota.

“Discrimination, the refugee crisis and the growing, absurd rejection of migrants under a discourse of hate and exclusion that wins over the hearts of frightened people. What can we say to humanity?” Mr. Santos said.

He did not name Mr. Trump but his comments were widely interpreted as an attack on the US leader’s recent moves to restrict immigration from Latin America and seven Muslim-majority countries.×

Other laureates such as Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, Costa Rica’s former president Oscar Arias and US anti-landmine activist Jody Williams also spoke up to criticise Mr. Trump at the gathering.

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Colombian Senator: FARC-EP Disarmament Unprecedented

Bogota, Feb 1 (Prensa Latina) Colombian senator Ivan Cepeda has described as unprecedented the massive arrival of the FARC-EP, the country's largest guerrilla group, to the transition points and zones to put down weapons, displacement that continue today.

Speaking to the 'Semana en Vivo' program, the congressman stated that the transfer of this group -in demobilization phase- to stages of 14 departments is the result of a long negotiation period and demonstrates the strict compliance of the acquired commitments.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) have passed all tests and are arriving in the places where the adaptation works have been making progress, also to others in which there is no water or electricity; in most cases the guerrillas are undertaking works to turn them into habitable zones, he insisted.

According to Sergio Jaramillo, High Commissioner for Peace, he should be in the transition points and zones -the latter smaller than the former- about 6,300 members of the rebel group to disarm and prepare for reintegration into civilian life.

The movements of troops began on Saturday, January 28th, from the pregroup stages to the 26 transition points and areas with accompanying observers of the tripartite supervisory mechanism.

This group is made up of spokesmen of the government, FARC-EP and a political mission coordinated and funded by the United Nations.

President Juan Manuel Santos and Timoleon Jimenez, top leader of that organization, signed on November 24th the definitive agreement to end the long confrontation between both parties.

The challenge now is to implement everything agreed to ensure the success of the so-called post-conflict.

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Colombian Government Ready to Talk with ELN for Complete Peace

Bogota, Jan 12 (Prensa Latina) The Colombian government has expressed its willingness to begin formal talks with the ELN with the promptness and seriousness demanded by the country, an option that both sides are exploring in Ecuador since today.

Responding to a letter sent by supporters of the negotiations with that insurgent movement, the head of the government spokesmen, Juan Camilo Restrepo, ratified the willingness of dialogue of the current administration, but insisted on the release of former congressman, Odin Sanchez, who is in the hands of that group.

According to the minister, both delegations of spokesmen are preparing in the Ecuadorian capital the joint meeting that could happen tomorrow, Colombian news reports said.

We arrived in Ecuador to continue the exploratory phase, we are convinced to make every effort to start this dialogue with the seriousness and promptness demanded by the country, Restrepo said in a statement released here.

The Executive and the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced in Caracas on March 30 their decision to begin such rounds of meetings, but there is no timetable for the meetings up to now.

This is a less numerous guerrilla than the FARC-EP but have been equally active more than 50 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement carried out in Venezuela, President Juan Manuel Santos conditioned the establishment of that other negotiation table for Sanchez' release, while the rebel organization rejects any conditioning prior to the talks.

Such stances keep the talks at a standstill despite calls from religious people, politicians, victims and other figures of the national stage to open the planned appointments and achieve a full detente scenario after the signing of the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), which occurred on November 24.

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Colombian Guerrilla Group Reiterates Commitment to Peace

The group has denounced what it sees as unilaterally imposed conditions hindering the peace process, but it is willing to forge ahead with dialogue.

The long-winded Colombian peace process, happening since January 2014, may be a step closer to fruition, after the National Liberation Army reiterated their commitment to peace and dialogue with the national government of Juan Manuel Santos.

“Despite the difficult climate and conditions which impede the peace process, we will promptly arrive to the appointment between our two delegations,” the group said in an end-of-year communiqué posted on their Twitter account. “We hope that by then, the government will have officially appointed its delegation.”

RELATED: Colombia Govt-ELN Peace Talks to Start in January

But while the guerrilla group – second to the more well-known Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – is willing to attend the Jan. 10 meeting in Quito, Ecuador, it denounced what it sees as the government's unilaterally imposed conditions.

Referring to the government’s recent abrupt decision to postpone the Oct. 27 talks, the group took the chance to remind Santos that mutual respect is a “golden rule for peace.”

“President Santos forgets that we are two parties, that we act according to what has been agreed upon and that among the rules established by our common agreement, there is one that says: ‘Agree and honor it, golden rule for peace,’” read the statement.

President Juan Manuel Santos canceled that meeting on the grounds that the ELN failed to confirm the release of a detainee, former lawmaker Odin Sanchez, held since April. The group holds that this demand “was not part of the agreements” they had come to on Oct. 6, which would have seen each side liberating prisoners on humanitarian grounds as the first rounds of negotiations began. But that did not happen.

“These facts show us the regime’s arrogance and lack of true commitment to peace,” the group wrote. They also denounced what they considered the “government’s lack of action” in front of the “systemic killing of popular and social leaders, Human Rights defenders…(by) paramilitary bands.”

Earlier this month, the two parties agreed to a prisoner release that has yet to happen, leading rebel leader Israel Ramirez, better known by his alias Pablo Beltran, to assure that on "the same day our two are pardoned, Mr. Sanchez will be free."

RELATED: Prisoner Swap Key to Boosting Colombia Peace Talks: ELN Leader

"We agreed they will happen simultaneously to eliminate mutual distrust," he added.

The ELN concluded by praising the role of the six guarantor states, which include Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba, Norway, Chile and Brazil, and thanking the “sister nation of Ecuador” for hosting the talks.

“Our efforts for peace in Colombia continue, which is why we ask the six guarantor states and their representatives at the dialogue table, to continue to accompany us and to offer their professional efforts, worthy of note," the statement read.

This all comes about a month after President Santos signed a historic, definitive peace deal with FARC.

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Venezuela 'Concerned' By Colombian Talks to Join NATO

Venezuela argues that this violates the principles of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries.

Venezuela expressed “deep concern” over an announcement made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that he has begun the final discussions for his country to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.

RELATED: Colombian Attorney General Says NATO Deal 'Unconstitutional'

In an official statement, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the announcement "breaks” a p made in 2010 to by Santos to late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to not join the military alliance.

"The Venezuelan government strongly rejects the attempt to introduce external organizations with nuclear capability into our region, whose past and recent actions claim the policy of war," the statement from Rodriguez said.

Venezuela argues that this would violate the principles of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, or NAM, which prohibits its members to form part of international military alliances.

"The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will use all diplomatic and political mechanisms to prevent war organizations with a pernicious record of war and violence in the world from disturbing the peace of our region," Rodriguez added.

Colombia, who chaired the NAM between 1995 and 1998, joined the movement as an observer in 1974 before becoming a permanent member in 1983 after the 7th Summit held in New Delhi. During its time as the head of the bloc, the South American nation defended the movement and promoted its modernization and strengthening.

During his Christmas speech to the army on Friday, Santos welcomed NATO's approval for the start of talks, which he considered "an acknowledgment of the country's military and police forces."

RELATED: NATO Deploys Thousands More Troops on Russian Border

The peace nobel laureate says the deal with NATO will be only for information exchange and to increase the fight against transnational crime, terrorism and drug trafficking.

NATO is the world’s largest intergovernmental military alliance, formed during the height of the Cold War to guard members states against purported “Soviet expansionism.” The pact currently has 28 member states across Europe, North America, as well as Turkey.

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