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Colombia: Soldiers clash with guerillas ahead of talks

September 17, 2023

Four Colombian soldiers were killed in the fighting with the FARC splinter group. The clash took place in an important coca producing region.

EMC members attending a meeting with local communities in San Vicente del Caguan in April
A previous ceasefire with EMC was ended in May after they killed four indigenous menImage: JOAQUIN SARMIENTO/AFP

Four Colombian soldiers were killed in a shootout with members of a dissident guerilla group ahead of talks set to begin on Monday, the country's Defense Ministry says.

Bogota said hours before the clash that the two sides would hold talks for three days to formalize a bilateral ceasefire and set a date for future peace talks.

Delicate peace process

The guerilla group, Estado Mayor Central (EMC), is a group formed of fighters from the now-disbanded FARC who rejected a 2016 peace deal. However, the group agreed in April to hold talks with the government.

The clash took place in the region of Narino, close to the border with Ecuador and home to a large share of Colombia's coca cultivation. Colombia is the world's largest producer of the plant which is used to make cocaine.

Control over the lucrative drug trade has fuelled conflict in the South American country for decades with left-wing guerillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and drug cartels all vying with each other and fighting the state.

Breakaway guerillas threaten Colombia's fragile peace

Colombia's left-wing President Gustavo Petro, himself a former member of a guerilla group, announced a ceasefire with all remaining militant factions at the end of 2022. The truce followed years of opposition to the 2016 peace process under his predecessor Ivan Duque.

However, Petro ended the ceasefire with EMC in May after members of the group killed four young indigenous men who resisted being recruited.

Petro's push for peace with the guerillas has support from the EU, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland, as well as the Catholic Church. However, experts have questioned how much authority the EMC's veteran leaders have over their younger recruits.

ab/rc (AFP, EFE)