Divisions among Colombia’s EMC rebels fracture peace talks, rebel leader and government say

By Thomson Reuters Apr 16, 2024 | 6:30 AM

By Luis Jaime Acosta

YARI PLAINS (Reuters) – A majority of the units that make up Colombia’s Estado Mayor Central (EMC) armed group have abandoned peace negotiations with the government because of internal divisions, according to a rebel leader and the head government peace negotiator, as observers warn the fissures could worsen violence and put civilians at risk.

The talks with the EMC, which was founded by former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who reject that group’s 2016 peace deal with the government, have been in crisis for weeks.

Last month, the government partially suspended a ceasefire because of violence and top rebel leader warned a deal is unlikely during this presidential administration.

President Gustavo Petro has promised peace or surrender deals to end the country’s 60-year conflict, which has killed 450,000 people, but he is also facing trouble at talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels.

“We aren’t all present at the same negotiating table,” EMC second-in-command Alexander Diaz Mendoza, better known by his nom de guerre Calarca Cordoba, told Reuters during a recent interview in the country’s south. “It’s a lie to say there is not a crisis.”

Just two of the EMC’s six units and a small, separate jungle squad have representatives at the talks.

“Internally we had some disagreements, which has meant that those of us who were at the talks representing the guerrilla continue at the negotiating table and other comrades, for many reasons…are waiting,” Calarca Cordoba said.

He did not go into detail about what specifically has caused the divisions, but said they existed before the suspension of a ceasefire in three provinces last month, after the governments said members of the EMC had attacked civilians, including an Indigenous leader, and security forces.

The divisions also are not due to EMC fighters wanting to abandon the talks, he said.

“They are internal problems, internal difficulties.”

Those units which are not participating in the talks could eventually name representatives or could ask the government for talks of their own, Calarca Cordoba said.

“It’s a crisis; it’s serious because the other units are outside of the talks,” head government negotiator Camilo Gonzalez said.

Talks with the EMC, which has an estimated 3,500 members, began in October and a ceasefire in some provinces remains in effect until mid-July.

Violence has risen in Cauca, Narino and Valle del Cauca provinces since the ceasefire there was called off last month, according to authorities.

Several regions could see worsening conflict and grave humanitarian consequences because of the divisions within the EMC, said Juana Cabezas, of the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) thinktank.

“If the units that have separated from the talks don’t continue in the dialogue with the government, there could be a strong escalation,” said Cabezas.

The government remains committed to negotiation, even if it has to meet individually with dissenting units.

“The government can’t say it won’t dialogue unless everyone is there,” said Gonzalez. “We must speak to who we can, the key is alleviating the situation for the population and looking for pathways to the end of the conflict, even if it’s not in a simultaneous way.”

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Aurora Ellis)