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Church leaders welcome ceasefire agreement in Colombia 

26 January 2024

Alamy

A member of the splinter FARC-EMC group last year

A member of the splinter FARC-EMC group last year

A CEASEFIRE with a rebel splinter-group has been extended in Colombia in an effort to reduce violence in some parts of the country.

The government has agreed to extend its ceasefire with the splinter FARC-EMC group until July. The group was one the rebel groups that did not sign up to the peace deal between the government and the main FARC group in 2016, which ended their five-decade-long conflict (News, 1 July 2016).

Representatives from the World Council of Churches (WCC) were among those at the talks for peace at which the extension was agreed.

“We receive this news with great joy,” the WCC’s general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said. “It shows that further steps are being taken for the peace process to advance, in the interests of the security and rights of the civilian population.

“In the midst of the conflicts that occur in different places in the world, this news is a sign of hope that peace with social justice, and in this case with environmental justice as well, will actually be built.”

Pockets of violence in rural areas have continued in Colombia, as rebel groups fight over territory abandoned by FARC. The Colombian government has been attempting to hold simultaneous peace talks with different groups, but existing ceasefires have not prevented the rebels’ recruiting teenagers and kidnapping civilians for large ransom payments.

Last year, another rebel group, the ELN, kidnapped the father of the Liverpool footballer Luiz Diaz. He was released after 12 days.

A sixth round of peace talks between the ELN and the government was under way this week in Cuba, in an effort to extend this ceasefire. The latest ceasefire extension with the FARC-EMC group includes the commitment that the rebels will stop attacking civilians in areas under their control.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, said that attacks on indigenous communities were of great concern.

“The situation in certain zones of departments such as Cauca, which is characterised by the significant presence of indigenous and Afro-Colombian peoples, is particularly challenging as a consequence of the presence and actions of various armed actors,” he told the UN Security Council.

The charity Open Doors has rated Colombia as the most dangerous country in South America in which to be a Christian over the past five years. The persecution of Christians is rife in rural areas, where armed groups extort from Christians and kidnap Christian leaders. Indigenous groups frequently proscribe conversion to the Christian faith in their own territories, and those who do are punished by expulsion or seizure of land.

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