Tag Archive | "colombia"

Venezuela Deports 791 Colombian Citizens

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

The Venezuelan government handed in 791 Colombian citizens to the Colombian General Consulate over the weekend, informed the governor of Táchira José Vielma Mora.

The governor indicated that the Colombian citizens were in Venezuelan territory “illegally” and that the deportation had been carried out between Saturday and Sunday, “as per the law, without any abuses, without any humiliation, without torture; they’re in a place with chairs, drinking water, food; they were taken in a bus to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, without any kind of abuse.”

Vielma Mora was responding to calls from the Colombian government to its Venezuelan counterpart “to respect the integrity and human rights of Colombian citizens subject to arrests, deportations, and other actions.” Colombian authorities said there were at least 42 minors amongst the deportees, and requested that the right of families to remain together be guaranteed.

The deportation was carried out as part of the Venezuelan government’s Operation for Freedom and Protection of the People, a campaign by the national police force that seeks to eradicate gangs of smugglers operating in the border between the two countries. Almost 1,500 people have been deported this year as part of the operation.

The weekend crackdown follows a decree signed by President Nicolás Maduro on Friday declaring a 60-day state of emergency in various municipalities in the state of Táchira, in the border with Colombia. On Thursday morning, the president had already closed the border and increased military presence after an incident in which two Venezuelan soldiers were wounded in a clash with smugglers.

According to BBC Mundo, low prices in subsidised petrol and other goods have increased smuggling activities along the 2,200 Km border over the last decade. President Maduro has blamed Colombian paramilitary groups, whom he says operate in Venezuela causing shortages in order to destabilise his government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has criticised the measures taken by the Venezuelan government, saying they are ineffective to combat smuggling and affect regular people on both sides of the border. “If we cooperate, the only losers are the criminals; but if the border is closed down and there is no coordination [between the two governments] the only winners are the criminals,” said Santos.


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Colombia: Government Pledges to De-escalate Military Action

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello - SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG/Government of Colombia)

Yesterday, the Colombian government vowed to pull forces back from military action against FARC.

For the first time since peace talks began in 2012, Colombian authorities have agreed to reduce military activity against the leftist guerrillas.

The move follows FARC’s call last week for a unilateral ceasefire starting on 20th July, the sixth ceasefire it has called during the course of the on-going peace talks.

FARC has long advocated for a bilateral ceasefire, however, a skeptical Colombian government has refused to a deal, claiming FARC has previously used the attempts to rearm.

The two sides have been engaged in peace talks for two and a half years in an attempt to end Latin America’s longest war, which has killed about 220,000 over 50 years. However, the country has witnessed an increase in violence this year, intensified by FARC attacks that left several police officers and soldiers dead and two principal rivers polluted by oil spills, actions that were seen as strategical to pressure the government to agree to a bilateral ceasefire.

“I can’t ignore, because I feel it as well, the frustration, the discouragement, the indignation produced in Colombians to see the FARC assassinating soldiers and police and blowing up pipelines and electricity towers, affecting the poor and producing irreparable environmental damage,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in his address to the nation Sunday night.

The government and the guerrillas said they would work together in an attempt to reach a permanent bilateral ceasefire. To accelerate talks and reach a peace agreement this year, the FARC has agreed to change the methodology of the talks and put all remaining issues on the table at once, instead of adhering to one topic at a time.

“We have to accelerate the talks to end the conflict as soon as possible,” Santos said. “In four months from now, depending on whether the FARC complies, I will decide on whether we continue with the process or not.”

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Colombia: Landslide Kills at Least 48, Dozens More Missing

Nearly 50 people have been confirmed dead and dozens more are missing as a landslide swept through a town in the north-west Colombia early on Monday morning.

Heavy rains caused the river in the Liboriana ravine to burst its banks, triggering a landslide in the municipality of Salgar in the mountainous district of Antioquia. The disaster unfolded around 3am, catching most people unawares.

The landslide hit the town of Salgar in the Liboriana ravine (Photo: César Carrión, courtesy of Presidencia de Colombia)

The landslide hit the town of Salgar in the Liboriana ravine (Photo: César Carrión, courtesy of Presidencia de Colombia)

“The landslide was generated by heavy rain at night and dawn when the water pulled along with it everything it found in its path; houses, bridges, whole families,” a municipal government official reported.

According El Colombiano, 30 houses near the riverbank have been affected by the flash flood, and 48 people have been confirmed dead, including a three-year-old child. The death toll is expected to rise as dozens are still missing, while at least 30 people were injured.

The mayor of Salgar, Olga Eugenia Osorio, said that the small town of Santa Margarita has been virtually “erased from the map”.

The regional and departmental authorities have launched the disaster management protocol to deal with the emergency, sending firemen from nearby municipalities. Ambulances, rescue units, and life guards are also coming from the nearby regional capital, Medellin. Badly injured have been taken to Medellin for intensive care, while those with minor injuries are being treated in the municipal hospital.

Air forces and police have lent out three helicopters and various personnel to be used in the rescue operations. Rescue workers are currently searching for bodies trapped in the mud.

Colombian President Juan Carlos Santos has announced that he will be flying to the scene along with the regional governor. “We are dealing with the emergency in Salgar, Antioquia. Risk Management [National Unit for Disaster Risk Management] is at the forefront of the situation. Those affected will receive all our help,” the president assured on Twitter.

In the meanwhile, the national weather institute Ideam has warned that the heavy rain is set to continue in the region.

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Colombia: Town Residents Take Soldiers Hostage

Argelia is located in south-west Colombia

Argelia is located in south-west Colombia

Residents of Argelia, Cauca are holding 36 soldiers after a man was shot dead at an army checkpoint. They have said that the soldiers, who were taken to a sports centre, will not be released until the death is investigated by human rights groups and local officials.

The military has said that Fáiber Antonio Erazo, was driving a motorcycle and was shot when he ignored an order to stop. They added that the 25-year-old was carrying coca paste, a derivative of cocaine.

In an official statement, the army said: “The soldiers followed established protocol for this kind of situation. However, when the motorcyclist did not respond, a soldier reacted. As a result the man riding the motorcycle was wounded, and later died. This man was carrying 25 pounds of coca paste.”

When news broke that Erazo had died, a large group of residents went to the local army base, removed the soldiers’ weapons, and took them to the sports centre. The process was carried out peacefully.

An ombudsman has travelled to the town to mediate the situation. The army has said that an investigation into Erazo’s death is already underway.


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Colombia: Government to Negotiate Bilateral Ceasefire with FARC

President Santos addresses Colombians in a televised speech (photo: Juan Pablo Bello - SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Santos addressed Colombians yesterday (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG/Government of Colombia)

President Juan Manuel Santos said yesterday he has instructed the government’s peace negotiators in Havana to begin discussions with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for a “bilateral and definitive ceasefire.”

In his first address of the year, Santos claimed 2015 “could be the year in which the armed conflict we have suffered for over half a century comes to an end,” thanks to the progress made in the peace talks with the guerrilla. With that aim, the president said he has “given instructions to the [peace] negotiators to begin as soon as possible the discussion on the item of a bilateral and definitive ceasefire and an end to the hostilities.”

He acknowledged that “the unilateral and definitive ceasefire decreed by the FARC has been a step in the right direction. And so far —we have to say this— they have abided by it.”

Santos highlighted that the final two agenda items are being discussed in Havana: Rights of the Victims and End of Conflict. He added that “we have already begun working on how we will carry out the laying down of weapons and the reintegration to civilian life of those who give up the armed struggle.”

The president also referred to recent declarations by the National Liberation Army (ELN) regarding their willingness to engage in dialogue with the Colombian government in order to bring an end to the armed conflict. Santos said he considers these declarations to be “positive” and that he hopes to establish the agenda items soon, in order to begin the dialogue.

The FARC responded to President Santos with a statement saying they are “pleased” with the decision by the government to discuss a bilateral ceasefire and to set up a sub-committee to begin working on the agenda item pertaining to the end of the conflict. However, they also criticised the government’s orders “to intensify offensive actions against the guerrilla during the truce,” which they find to be “contradictory and reckless” and a risk to the continuity of the unilateral ceasefire.

The FARC also declared to be ready to “initiate discussions that will allow us to clarify the phenomenon of paramilitarism, the definition of solutions that will lead us to overcome poverty, inequality, lack of democracy, and the re-establishment of sovereignty,” as well as what they consider the sixth item of the agenda, which is the implementation of the peace deals.

FARC and government representatives are due to meet on the 18th January for a preparatory meeting, previous to the beginning of the next round of talks in Havana, due on the 26th January.


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Colombia: ELN ‘Willing to Consider’ Laying Down Weapons

ELN poster at the National University of Colombia (photo: Wikipedia)

ELN poster at the National University of Colombia (photo: Wikipedia)

The National Liberation Army (ELN) announced in a filmed statement today that they are willing to engage in dialogue with the Colombian government in order to bring an end to the armed conflict.

“Over 50 years ago we took up arms because we understood that the legal avenues were closed off for the people’s struggles; today we still consider this to be true. The government has stated their willingness to put and end to the armed conflict and for that they have called upon the insurgency,” says ELN leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (aka ‘Gabino’) on the video. “We attend this dialogue to examine the real will of the government and of the Colombian state; if after this examination we come to the conclusion that weapons are no longer necessary, we would be willing to consider if we should stop using them.”

The ELN video was released on the 50th anniversary of the seize of Simacota, one of the founding milestones of the guerilla group, and it coincided with the Fifth Congress of the ELN, which brought the organisation’s leadership together.

Gabino’s statement is a response to President Juan Manuel Santos, who earlier this week called for the ELN to join the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire as a demonstration of their willingness to engage in peace negotiations.

After a meeting with peace negotiators and international advisers in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Santos said: “We have given great consideration to the unilateral and indefinite ceasefire, on this point we must recognise that the FARC have kept their word. We want to invite the ELN to join the initiative and to come to an agreement as soon as possible, on all the agenda items we have been discussing for some time.”

The position made public by Gabino was ratified by ELN Commander Antonio García, who highlighted that a peace process must entail deep transformations in the country, and not just an end to the armed conflict.

“The [ELN] Congress defined the need to keep working for a democratic Colombia, in that respect we can identify with the search for a political solution to the conflict (…) the challenge of [achieving] peace is not just a dialogue between the guerrilla and the government, but an effort we must all carry out,” said García.

The ELN was formed in Colombia in 1964, and has since been part of the country’s ongoing armed conflict. They define themselves as Marxist-Leninist and were heavily influenced in their beginnings by the Liberation Theology, as they counted a number of Catholic priests among their ranks, including Camilo Torres, who died in combat in 1966.

The guerrilla group operates mainly in the country’s northeast, and has an estimated 3,000 members.


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Colombia: FARC Declares Unilateral Ceasefire

FARC flag

FARC flag

In an historic first, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have declared an indefinite, unilateral ceasefire which will come into effect on 20th December.

Iván Márquez, the chief negotiator for FARC, read the statement yesterday in Havana, Cuba, in which the group said they hoped the ceasefire “would turn into an armistice”.

“We want to overcome the useless bloodshed,” he said, but added that the ceasefire would be terminated if they found that their guerrilla structures had been targeted by security forces. He went on to ask the public to act as overseer to the ceasefire. FARC also asked for oversight from Unsaur, Celac, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Frente Amplio por la Paz.

Colombia’s government responded to the news cautiously, saying that the decision goes in the right direction but that the organisation could not repeat past experiences of ceasefires that had only been partially followed. “All armed activity and threats to the civilian population must cease,” said the government in a statement.

The announcement came as the current round of peace talks between Juan Manuel Santos’ administration and the FARC draws to a close in Havana.

The peace talks, which began in November 2012, aim to put an end to over half a century of armed conflict that has killed over 220,000 people and displaced over two million.

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IACHR Rules Against Colombia Over Disappearances

The new Palace of Justice building in Bogotá (photo: Wikipedia)

The new Palace of Justice building in Bogotá (photo: Wikipedia)

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has issued a ruling against the Colombian state for its responsibility in the forced disappearance of 11 people in 1985.

The ruling refers to the incident occurred on 6th and 7th November 1985, when guerrilla group M-19 took over the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, holding the Supreme Court hostage and demanding a public trial against then-president Belisario Betancur. The government then carried out a two-day military operation to take back the building, in which almost 100 people died, including 11 Supreme Court judges, and 11 were disappeared.

According to the IACHR ruling, it was proved that “there was a modus operandi that tended to the forced disappearance of people considered suspicious of having participated in the Palace of Justice siege or of having collaborated with the M-19.” It adds that “the suspects were separated from the other hostages, taken to military institutions, in some cases tortured, and their whereabouts were then unknown.”

The ruling sentences the Colombian state to pay millions of US dollars in compensation to the victims’ families. It also demands that investigations into the incidents be carried out and that those responsible be sentenced, as well as “the whereabouts of the 11 victims who are still disappeared [to be determined] as soon as possible.”

The state will also have to give medical and psychological treatment to the victims who need it, and to carry out a public and international acknowledgment of its responsibility and film a documentary about the Palace of Justice Siege.

Colombia is the second country with the most suits filed against it at the IACHR (after Peru), with over 1,600 requests for reparations. It has been sentenced 15 times by the organisation.

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Colombia: FARC Release Kidnapped General, Peace Talks To Resume

President Santos met with the government negotiators on Sunday night, before their trip to Cuba (photo: César Carrión - SIG/Colombian government)

President Santos met with the government negotiators on Sunday night, before their trip to Cuba (photo: César Carrión – SIG/Colombian government)

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released kidnapped General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other Army staff on Sunday morning.

The three Army personnel were delivered to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), thus removing the obstacle to the resumption of the peace talks in Havana. The Colombian government representatives are travelling to Cuba today and expect to resume the negotiations within the next few days.

“The negotiators will travel to Cuba this afternoon, they have a meeting in a couple of days; the Cuban government has requested that we don’t hold the meeting within the next few days as they are going to need to convention centre for a series of events,” explained Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

Once there, they will “evaluate where the process is at, where we’re going, and will carry out a cold and objective evaluation of the process to see how we can move forward,” added Santos.

After the release, the FARC released a statement calling for “the re-design of the rules”. “It is time for a bilateral ceasefire, for an armistice, so that no war-related occurrence in the battle fields can justify the interruption of such a beautiful and historical task, which is agreeing peace for a nation that longs for that destiny.”

However, President Santos rejected the ceasefire once more. “I have the conviction that negotiating during the ongoing conflict is the best way to preserve the essential elements of the state and to keep the conversations from turning into an endless exercise,” he said.

He also acknowledged the role of the FARC in the release operation: “Even though the step taken by the FARC follows the duty to act as per the law, it is evident that the decision [to free the prisoners] contributes to recover a favourable climate to carry on with the dialogues,” as well as “it shows the maturity of the process.”

Christoph Harnisch, head of the ICRC in Colombia, said in a statement that the operation was carried out “thanks to the trust the parties put into the institution and its humanitarian work,” and hoped that the negotiations “can be resumed soon.” The guarantor countries, Norway and Cuba, also praised both parties for their “constructive position” and supported the ongoing peace process.

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Colombia: FARC Releases Two Soldiers

President Santos at yesterday's press conference (photo: Javier Casella/AFP/Télam)

President Santos announced the suspension of the peace talks last week (photo: Javier Casella/AFP/Télam)

The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) released yesterday the two soldiers they had captured on 9th November.

The soldiers, Paulo Rivera and Jonathan Díaz, were handed over to a commission formed by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the governments of Cuba and Norway, the guarantors of the peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.

The release was carried out in an undisclosed location in the district of Arauca. The soldiers were then taken by the Army to the capital Bogotá, where they will undergo medical check-ups and reunite with their families.

In a statement, the FARC said they will now “focus their efforts” on the release of General Rubén Darío Alzate and two other army staff who were kidnapped on 16th November. President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the release of Alzate will take place on Saturday, and announced on Twitter that the military operations on the Pacific coast have been suspended in order to facilitate the release.

The FARC denounced military operations during the release of the two soldiers, and demanded the Army respects the Special Humanitarian Agreement in the upcoming release of Alzate. “During the release of the general [Alzate] we don’t want any risks of clashes due to [the Army] not following the protocols. Yesterday, when the Alfonso Castellanos Column of the Tenth Front was going to the place of release of the prisoners, an Army patrol appeared by surprise in the area, which forced them to avoid them and change the site chosen for the release,” said a statement by the guerrilla.

President Santos suspended the peace talks as information about the kidnapping of General Alzate became known. He affirmed that they would not resume until Alzate was freed. Last week, the FARC agreed to the release of the prisoners —including Alzate, the two army staff travelling with him, and the two soldiers captured on 9th November— after representatives from Cuba and Norway intervened in the conflict.

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