At least nine people were killed and five more were injured after clashes between Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and a splinter faction of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), known as the Estado Mayor Central (EMC), erupted in Colombia’s north-eastern province of Arauca, which borders Venezuela.
A 14-year-old girl who is a member of the U’wa indigenous community was among the injured who were transferred to the San Antonio de Tame Hospital.
Initial reports have deemed the death toll to stand at nine; however, BNN reports that at least 15 people were killed during the clashes.
Authorities have not clarified if those killed belong to either paramilitary group, while authorities are enroute to collect the dead, where they will be transferred to the city of Arauca in order that “Legal Medicine may forward the material evidence and physical evidence that will allow the clarification of the facts.”
The Arauca government denounced the action, calling for armed groups to “keep the civilian population on the sidelines.”
Following the clashes, the Colombian military discovered and disarmed 21 improvised explosive devices as well as 12 grenades where they utilized controlled detonation. One such explosive was discovered within the house of a civilian, which authorities denounced as a “serious violation of human rights and a violation of the provisions of international humanitarian law. They further stated the importance of the presence of the National Army, claiming that “only through a joint, coordinated, unified effort and adherence to the national legal order and international norms will we achieve lasting peace.
Arauca is a hub for various criminal groups that primarily deal with the distribution of cocaine and illegally mined metals due to the small number of military forces active within the area and its border with Venezuela, which has led to the region being a popular staging ground for conflicts between the various paramilitary groups and cartels.
Colombia’s President Has a Long History of Attempting to Negotiate Peace Deals:
The clashes comes after the ELN concluded negotiations with the Colombian government to allow humanitarian aid to areas of the country that are suffering from the civil conflict that has plagued Colombia for over 60 years and has claimed the lives of an estimated 450,000 people. It is unknown who will be providing the humanitarian aid, as the benefactor was not discussed during the negotiations.
The clashes also follow Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s attempts to broker peace between government forces and various paramilitary groups. The government and the ELN had been in ceasefire talks since November, with their efforts finally coming to fruition following the successful negotiation of a ceasefire with the paramilitary group in June, which took effect in August. The ceasefire is thought to have been facilitated following Colombia’s Attorney General, Francisco Barbosa’s, suspension of arrest warrants against more than 20 EMC members in early March.
The FARC, however, has remained free of any governmental ceasefire following the suspension of a previously negotiated ceasefire in May after the paramilitary group killed four indigenous teenagers who belonged to the Murui community. Both the government and the FARC would revive ceasefire negotiations in July, with negotiations coming to fruition on Saturday, DW reported.
The Groups Behind the Conflict:
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are a Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group originally formed in 1966 from various peasant defense groups during the “Violencia” period, a 10-year civil war between Colombia’s Conservative Party and Liberal Party. Despite their peasant origins, the group is known to utilize extortion, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and illegal mining in order to fund their operations. The group disbanded in 2016 and formed a political party; however, a dissident group known as the Estado Mayor Central (EMC) continued its operations against the government. The EMC currently stands at an estimated 3,530 members, with 2,180 fighters and 1,350 auxiliaries.
The National Liberation Army is another Marxist-Leninist paramilitary group and predates the FARC, which was formed in 1964. The bulk of the ELN’s members were students and youth activists instead of the peasant composition of the FARC. The ELN also utilizes similar methods to the FARC in order to fund their operations, including extortion, drug trafficking, and kidnapping.
Peace talks between the ELN and the Colombian government began in 2005 before coming to fruition in 2017, when a ceasefire between the two was negotiated in September and took effect in October, with the ceasefire being set to end in January of 2018. Peace talks would fall apart following the ELN’s bombing in Colombia’s capital of Bogotá, which claimed the lives of 21 people and injured 68 others. This marked the deadliest attack in the capital since the El Nogal Club bombing in 2003 and the first attack on the capital since the Centro Andino bombing in 2017.
Peace talks reinitiated when Colombia’s current president, Gustavo Petro, took office in 2022, where the new government and the ELN met in Venezuela and negotiated a ceasefire that lasted from December 24, 2022, to January 2, 2023, with various other ceasefires being negotiated as time went on.