UN chief: Colombia’s new government must consolidate peace

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says Colombia’s new government must consolidate peace and urgently address major challenges, from an upsurge in violence to the need to restore confidence in the future among leftist rebels who laid down their arms.

Guterres said in a report to the Security Council circulated Wednesday that there is probably no greater challenge for the incoming government than bringing development, security and the rule of law “to vast expanses of the country that continue to be prey to violence.”

He expressed grave concern at the spike in killings of community leaders and human rights activists following last month’s election won by President-elect Ivan Duque, who is to be sworn into office Aug. 7.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the report Thursday after briefings by U.N. envoy for Colombia Jean Arnault and Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo.

Guterres said the transition of former rebels “from war to politics” was a key factor in Colombia’s least violent and most participatory election in decades. The vote chose a successor for President Juan Manuel Santos, who signed the 2016 peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ending five decades of conflict that had caused estimated 260,000 deaths and displaced 7 million people. Duque has criticized aspects of the accord.

The U.N. chief stressed the achievement of Santos and the FARC leaders in culminating one phase of the peace process and thanked them for their leadership.

“The task ahead is to consolidate the peace,” Guterres said.

Continued violence in conflict zones, “the proliferation of illegal groups and the growth of the coca economy, as well as frustration and fears among former combatants and among communities who feel bypassed by the peace process, leave no doubt as to the magnitude of the challenges that await the new government, Colombian institutions and civil society alike,” he said.

So far, Guterres said, implementing peace “has been dogged by levels of uncertainty that have raised deep and understandable misgivings among FARC members reintegrating into society.” Uncertainty continues to surround the legal, political and security guarantees for those who turned in their weapons and now depend on the government to deliver those guarantees as well as provide economic opportunities, he said.

And the goal of providing income-generating opportunities for 14,000 former FARC combatants “is far from being realized,” Guterres added.

“The country’s new authorities have the critical responsibility to restore a sense of confidence about the future among the rank and file, the mid-level commanders and the leadership of the former guerrilla group,” the secretary-general said. “It is not only a matter of consolidating the peace process with FARC, it is also a matter of credibility in relation to possible future negotiations with other armed actors.”

The report noted a sixth round of talks between the government and the National Liberation Army, a smaller rebel group, is underway.

Guterres said increased killings “confirms the urgency of dealing with the pattern of violence that continues to affect principally the rural areas.”

These areas increasingly overlap areas of illegal coca cultivation and drug trafficking, he said, and community leaders and human rights defenders are being killed by “actors” seeking to control communities, land and resources formerly controlled by FARC.

Since August 2017, Guterres said, 51 former FARC members have been killed and five others were victims of “forced disappearance.”

Guterres said the new government will have to put the issue of violence “at the center of its agenda, and the judicial system will have to redouble efforts to bring perpetrators to account.”