UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visits Colombia as the South American nation prepares to celebrate the fifth anniversary of a fragile peace agreement reached between the government and the country’s largest armed rebel group.
Flanked by Colombian President Ivan Duque, Guterres visited Llano Grande on Tuesday, the site of a reintegration center for former members of the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) Marxist rebel group.
The Government of Colombia and members of the FARC have signed a peace agreement in 2016 to end a nearly six-decade-long armed conflict that has displaced millions and left more than 260,000 people dead.
The five-year anniversary of that agreement – which saw some 13,000 FARC fighters lay down their arms and promise to take on civilian life – is celebrated on Wednesday.
“They renew every day their commitment to build a country in peace and address the remaining challenges,” Guterres said in a tweet about his visit to Llano Grande. “They know that peace does not come from one day to the next. It takes effort to build and maintain. ”
I’m thankful that I met members of the Llano Grande community in Colombia.
Every day they renew their commitment to build a country in peace and address the remaining challenges.
They know that peace does not come from one day to the next. It takes effort to build and maintain. pic.twitter.com/zd1DVxQAwh
– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) 23 November 2021
The UN chief also lamented “enemies of peace” and demanded that “the safety of former fighters, social leaders and human rights defenders” be guaranteed in Colombia.
“We must redouble our efforts to guarantee the sustainability of (reintegration) projects, with technical and financial support, land and housing,” he said on Tuesday.
Despite the 2016 agreement, violence continues in several parts of Colombia where FARC continues to hold weapons that have rejected the peace agreement, and where others armed groups and drug smugglers industry.
Nearly 300 former FARC members was also killed across the country since the agreement, according to local advocacy group Indepaz.
Guterres met with former FARC commander on Tuesday Rodrigo London, who said Duque’s presence was a source of “encouragement”.
Despite “the many obstacles … despite the fact that we have killed almost 300 members, we remain committed to the path taken five years ago,” said Londono, after whom his former name de guerre, Timochenko often referred to.
“We will respect the promises made to Colombia and the world,” he said.
The UN said Guterres also spoke with Fredy Gustavo Dimate, another former FARC fighter who was a member of the group for two decades but has trained and worked in coffee production since the peace deal.
Meanwhile, also on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to remove the FARC from its list of foreign “terrorist organizations,” the Reuters news agency reported, citing two people familiar with the matter.
Reuters said the US State Department had informed Congress of its plan and an announcement is expected in the coming days.
Abandoning the “terrorism” designation could help release US aid to projects involving former FARC members and strengthen the agreement in general with a further demonstration of US support.
“We have begun the process of consulting with Congress on actions we are taking with respect to the FARC,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said during a daily briefing.
Price declined to specify whether that would mean removing FARC from the blacklist, but said the Biden administration was committed to the “implementation and preservation” of the Colombia peace agreement.
The Colombian government, one of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
The US first designated the FARC as a “terrorist” organization in October 1997.
After the group’s demobilization, FARC members entered politics and initially called themselves the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, with the FARC acronym. They later rebranded as General and the party’s leadership won 10 congressional seats after the peace agreement.