The Colombian government and the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) armed group have agreed a six-month extension to the current ceasefire that had been scheduled to expire on 15 January. The new agreement runs until 15 July 2024 with the possibility that it can be extended further. The announcement raises optimism of a lasting settlement to end violent conflict involving the EMC in different regions of the country.
In a statement, the negotiating teams said they had ‘agree[d] new ceasefire objectives in the strengthening of the peace process, the deepening of territorial transformations and the replacement of illicit economies, the protection of the environment, participation of society and humanitarian protection of the civilian population.’
Under the leadership of Iván Mordisco, the EMC includes former members of the FARC guerrilla movement who remained armed following the signing of the 2016 agreement between the FARC and the government. It has expanded in several zones and contains around 3,200 members. In December, the group announced it would prohibit hostage-taking for financial motives.
Fighting between rival armed groups, which have sprung up across Colombia in large part due to the failings of previous administrations to properly implement the peace agreement, has contributed to Colombia’s human rights crisis. Since the agreement’s signing in late 2016, over 400 former FARC members and more than 1,500 social activists have been killed. The government’s Total Peace initiative aims to reach settlements with armed groups through dialogue as a means to reduce the violence.
Last week, the third round of talks began in Bogota, with a ceasefire extension a key priority. Negotiators also aim to determine the agenda for talks moving forward, which could potentially recycle points included in the 2012-16 peace dialogues with the FARC. This is complicated by the fact that some EMC members are believed to have taken part in the previous peace process before abandoning it, a situation which could affect their involvement in legal mechanisms.
The participation of the United Nations Verification Mission is also yet to be confirmed. Initially based in Colombia to monitor implementation of the 2016 peace agreement, the UN Mission last year took on a similar role in the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN), another central pillar of the Total Peace policy. Although the Petro government has requested the UN Mission’s involvement in the EMC talks, the UN Security Council has yet to give its approval. According to a US representative on the Council, ‘we are going to continue observing and asking for efforts before we consider a possible broadening of the Mission’s mandate.’