An armed dissident group of Colombia’s disbanded FARC guerrillas said Sunday it was “ready” to start peace talks with the government next month in an apparent boost for leftist President Gustavo Petro’s quest for “total peace.”
The EMC dissident grouping, which rejected a 2016 peace deal that disarmed the FARC, announced at a meeting in the country’s rural south “that our delegates to the dialogue table with the Colombian government… are ready for May 16.”
Spokeswoman Angela Izquierdo added: “We hope the official installation of the (negotiating) table can be realized.”
EMC top leaders have been meeting on a farm in the southern San Vicente del Caguan region since the beginning of April to plot a strategy for peace negotiations.
That included consultations with local communities under EMC control and members of the allied so-called “farmers’ guard.”
The leaders included “Ivan Mordisco”, who the government erroneously claimed to have killed last year.
Some dissidents rejected the 2016 peace agreement that led to the dissolution of Latin America’s most fearsome guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), while others later returned to the fold after failing to integrate into civilian life.
Despite the pact, fighting has continued between various groups of left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and traffickers vying for control of drug and illegal mining resources.
The Indepaz research institute reported nearly 100 massacres in Colombia last year.
The EMC is estimated to have about 3,000 fighters operating mainly in the Amazon, on the Pacific coast and near the border with Venezuela.
The country’s first-ever leftist president, Petro has pursued negotiations with FARC dissidents and other armed groups.
Petro came to power last August with plans to bring “total peace” to a country scarred by decades of violence.
At the president’s initiative, a six-month ceasefire has been in place with FARC dissidents and other armed groups since January 1.
But there have been setbacks.
The ELN guerilla group, which has been engaged in peace negotiations with the government since last November, refuted Petro’s announcement that it was part of the truce that entered into force on January 1.
Last month, Petro summoned government negotiators after ELN fighters killed nine soldiers and injured nine more.
Another round of talks with the ELN, for National Liberation Army, is scheduled for later this month in Cuba.
Also in March, the government suspended its truce with the Gulf Clan — the country’s largest drug cartel — after attacks on civilians and uniformed personnel.
Colombia’s opposition frequently criticizes Petro for concessions he is willing to make to armed and criminal groups, for peace.
Last week, the government said the peace process with EMC was being “consolidated.”
Thousands of people who live in EMC-controlled areas turned out for a popular consultation Sunday with the group’s leaders.
“We are the army of the people… Communities must take part in negotiations. We cannot leave them at the mercy of the paramilitaries,” an EMC commander, Danilo Alvizu, told AFP.