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Colombia to suspend aerial bombings of armed groups

August 26, 2022

Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said the government wants to avoid the deaths of minors who have been forced to join. The government has indicated willingness to engage in peace talks with rebel groups.

Colombia's Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez attends a ceremony in Bogota.
Colombiaäs new government has expressed openness for talks with rebels.Image: Luisa Gonzalez/REUTERS

Colombia on Thursday said it will suspend aerial bombings of armed groups, in order to avoid deaths of civilians and minors who have been forced to join. 

Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said it was also an indication of the willingness of the government to engage in possible talks with armed groups. It marks a change in the state strategy against guerilla groups and drug-trafficking gangs. 

"The bombings must be suspended. We're going to evaluate the specific moment in which an absolute guideline can be established, but that is the direction we want to take," he told reporters. 

Recent aerial bombardments had targeted groups such as dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which signed a peace deal in 2016, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and the organized crime gang Clan del Golfo, killing important leaders. 

Colombia's first leftist president sworn in

"Children forcibly recruited by illegal groups are victims of this violence. Therefore no military action with respect to illegal armed organizations can endanger the lives of these victims. We have to privilege life over death and cannot carry out operations ... that put at risk the lives of the civilian population," Velasquez said. 

The defense minister also said that this policy should not be mistaken for a sign of weakness on part of the government. "Peace is a process of collective construction," he said.  

The defense ministry is considering the purchase of a new fleet of combat aircraft to replace its Israeli-made Kfir planes.  

Change in govt policy towards rebels 

The bombing of rebel groups is a contentious topic in the south American nation.  

Colombia has seen six decades of conflict between rebel groups and the government. Guerillas have been recruiting minors in their ranks, particularly in regions with low military presence.  

In 2019, then defense minister Guillermo Botero had resigned after eight minors aged 12-17 died in a military strike against the FARC group. 

President Gustavo Petro, who was elected in June this year, is trying to change tactics used by the military. Petro joined a rebel group against Colombia's military dictatorship as a teenager in the 1970s and served a jail term for illegal possession of arms.

He is pursuing a police of "total peace" to end the conflict with holdout guerillas and criminal gangs, offering legal benefits and reduced sentences. 

In 2016, former president Juan Manuel Santos had brokered a peace deal with FARC, but dissidents who disagreed with the agreement have refused to lay down arms. 

tg/msh (AFP, Reuters)