Colombia: paramilitary threat to peace seen

A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited  the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)

However, fighting with right-wing paramilitary forces appears to be escalating. The army's elite GAULA units are continuing operations in the north of the country aimed at neutralizing the "Úsuga Clan," leaders of the brutal Urabeños paramilitary network. On Jan. 18, a 14-year-old youth was killed by a solider in an operation that went awry at Cáceres, Antioquia department. The youth was killed as troops raided a bar in the town, apparently acting on a bad tip. (El Tiempo, Jan. 18)

The FARC is also fighting with the Urabeños in the same area—putting the guerillas and government on the same side against the paramilitaries, a reversal of the situation a decade ago. Fighting between the guerillas and paras has left more than 400 displaced over the past two weeks at El Bagre municipality, also in the north of Antioquia. A statement from the civil society group Cahucopana  said the local population is "trapped" by the fighting. (Prensa Rural, Jan. 21; El Tiempo, Jan. 17)

On Jan. 21, the FARC issued a statement calling paramilitaries the "major threat" to ending the armed conflct. The statement, signed by the FARC Peace Delegation, called for creation of a national commission to oversee dismantling of the surviving paramilitary networks. (AFP, El Tiempo, Jan. 21)

The paras continue to be evidently deeply involved in the cocaine trade. In operations against the Urabeños at Turbo in northern Antioquia this month, security forces said they uncovered 158 kilos of processed cocaine. (El Espectador, Jan. 14) Since the campaign was launched last year, under the code-name Operation Agamemnon, security forces have reportedly uncovered more than 15 tons of cocaine in the region. The National Police say they believe the Úsuga Clan is collaborating with Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. (El Tiempo, Jan. 12)