UN envoy: Vast majority of Colombia rebels back peace deal

EDITH M. LEDERER

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — "The vast majority" of former fighters with Colombia's largest rebel group remain committed to the 2016 peace deal with the government despite a few ex-commanders taking up arms again, the country's U.N. ambassador said Thursday.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu told the Security Council the actions of the ex-commanders are "regrettable and unjustified" and stressed "the swift and categorical rejection of these actions by all sectors across the country."

He singled out Wednesday's expulsion of those taking up arms by the political party established by the former rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo told council members the rearming former FARC leaders "are a clear minority" who established "a narco-terrorist group" a little over a month ago. He said that has been condemned by FARC and rejected by "Colombian society as a whole."

The ex-FARC leaders' action is the "most flagrant violation" of the agreement, Holmes said. "However, this event made it possible to demonstrate that 90% of the ex-combatants are complying with their commitments, and furthermore 76% of them have expressed optimism and motivation" about their future.

"The government will continue to be committed to this great majority of ex-combatants, and interprets it as a demonstration of trust in their efforts at reintegration and reconciliation with the Colombian people," Holmes said.

Massieu told the council that "thousands of former fighters are pursuing academic studies, receiving vocational training, participating actively in cooperatives, and are employed in activities related to the peace agreement."

He said more than 3,500 ex-combatants are involved in individual and collective projects ranging from agricultural ventures to manufacturing clothing and ecotourism.

But Massieu said, "Further efforts are needed, given that the projects that have thus far received government funding represent 14.7% of the accredited former combatants."

In addition, he said more than 8,000 former FARC combatants live outside their former areas and have limited access to reintegration benefits, making them "more vulnerable to violence and to recruitment by illegal armed groups."

"More should be done to support this population," Massieu said.

The U.N. envoy also expressed serious concern at continuing attacks on ex-FARC combatants. He said 20 had been killed since July, bringing the total since the peace agreement to 151.

He said there has been some progress by the government, but more must be done to strengthen security guarantees for ex-combatants and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.

Municipal and regional elections are less than three weeks away, Massieu said, "and violence against candidates is affecting political parties across the ideological spectrum, including FARC, which is participating in local elections for the first time."

In January 2016, the government and FARC jointly asked the Security Council to help monitor and verify rebel disarmament should the two sides reach a deal to end their long civil war, which left an estimated 260,000 people dead and displaced millions.

It was a rare request for help to the council, which deals with global crises and is often criticized for failing to end conflicts like that in Syria.

But the council welcomed the opportunity and established a political mission after the deal was signed that initially focused on verifying disarmament of FARC rebels and is now focusing on trying to reintegrate them into Colombian society.