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Conflict

'A new genocide:' Colombia's peace deal ushers in fresh violence

Amid a final push to end the world's longest-running conflict, peace advocates have been targeted across the country even as a deal has been signed. Lives remain at risk.

More than a month after a peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) had been struck down in a nationwide referendum, President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that the new agreement has been submitted to Congress for ratification next week, effectively opting out of a popular vote. Santos and his allies hold a majority in the legislature.

Colombia's government and Marxist rebels signed the revised peace deal on Thursday to end Latin America's longest-running conflict. Santos and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londono signed the agreement - the second in nearly two months - in a low-key ceremony in Bogota.

With the new deal, the Colombian president seeks to cement his legacy as a peacemaker by ending the world's longest-running conflict, a pursuit that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize days after the referendum.

Led by former President Alvaro Uribe, the opposition movement has criticized the new deal, saying it doesn't go far enough to address the failures of the first deal, which voters narrowly rejected on October 2.

But President Santos affirmed the latest version has taken into account the objections of the opposition by strengthening protections for property rights, amending FARC's political participation and enhancing the mechanism that will implement the peace deal.

"I invite you to leave decades of violence forever in the past, to unite for all of us, for Colombia, for this dear nation, and to work together for reconciliation around shared ideals of peace," Santos said.

"The new agreement accurately defines the transitional justice system for ex-combatants and sets clear parameters so that the judicial system can determine and impose sanctions and other measures in each case," Santos remarked.

'A new genocide'

But in a statement on Wednesday, Uribe took the opportunity to lash out at allegations that hardline elements of the opposition movement had fomented political violence in the run-up and aftermath of the referendum after five community leaders who supported the peace deal had been shot and killed last week.

"The government pretends to deceive citizens by blaming violence on those who do not approve of their agreement of impunity with FARC," Uribe said in a statement published Wednesday.

"Greater risks of violence are due to the abandonment of security, the dismantling of citizen cooperation, the lack of motivation of the armed forces, the excessive growth of drug trafficking, the impunity granted to FARC, its dissidents, the ELN (National Liberation Army), and the more than 3,500 criminal gangs," he added.

However, the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CPDH) reported that at least 70 community leaders and activists who supported peace with the Marxist rebels have been killed since January.

The human rights watchdog said the attacks represent a "clear systematic plan of extermination and an attack on the current peace process."

"While it is true that post-conflict periods worldwide have been bloody, it is urgent not only to look at the assessment, [but] it is a priority to take the appropriate and relevant measures to stop this attack against peacekeepers," CPDH said in a statement.

The CPDH, a member of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, recorded 314 cases of violence related to the peace process in 2016, including 232 threats, 21 attacks and the 70 assassinations of community leaders.

The latest series of attacks even prompted FARC to publish on Monday an open letter calling on the president to end impunity in the targeted murders of rural peace advocates.

"The situation is very dramatic and worrying: more than 200 deaths so far this year, with a total blanket of impunity. A new genocide is under way against social leaders and peasants," FARC said in the letter.

Aida Avella, a proponent of the peace deal, narrowly escaped a rocket-launcher attack on her motorcade in the 1990s

Aida Avella, a proponent of the peace deal, narrowly escaped a rocket-launcher attack on her motorcade in the 1990s

'History is repeating itself'

Aida Avella, president of the left-wing Union Patriotica party who escaped assassination in the 1990s by an alleged right-wing paramilitary outfit, said the latest spate of targeted murders feels all too familiar.

"I had to bury hundreds of my colleagues back then, and last week I felt like I was back in the 1980s and 1990s," Avilla told the "Miami Herald" newspaper. "Every day we've been getting news about people being killed, disappeared, shot at. I feel like history is repeating itself."

But former President Uribe on Wednesday called for "citizens to persist in their struggle, which is for the future of democracy," warning of further actions against the ratification of the peace deal.

"We will study in the coming days a set of actions of appeal to the people in the streets and in the scenarios of democracy," Uribe said.

However, not pushing through with the peace deal may likely lead to further instances of targeted assassinations of peace supporters, a setback reminiscent of the prolific violence that proliferated throughout Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s.

"The risk of new incidents increases with each passing day" without the peace deal, the president said.

Watch video 00:30

Colombia: Peace on the horizon

 

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