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One step forward: on Colombia’s new challenges

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MEANINGS are given in BOLD

Ending a civil war-like conflict (a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one) is never easy. In some ways it is more difficult to end than a conventional war, as it leaves many festering (become rotten and offensive to the senses) wounds that prevent a re-integration of warring (in conflict with each other; opposing) groups. In the case of Colombia, which has experienced two lengthy civil wars involving left-wing guerrilla forces of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), the challenges are that much more. Last year, President Juan Manuel Santos, whose efforts were rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, achieved a breakthrough by signing a peace accord with the FARC, which agreed to demobilise following concessions such as amnesty (an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offences) for many of its rebels and transition to a civilian political party.

Santos has taken a piecemeal approach to achieving peace with the FARC. After months of negotiations that retained the guarantees of political participation to FARC rebels, measures related to rural land reform, batches of FARC rebels, whose numbers are estimated to be close to 7,000, began disarming (having the effect of allaying suspicion or hostility, especially through charm) their units and weaponry (weapons regarded collectively ) in demobilisation camps across the country. For the first time last week, a group of 12 rebels formally became civilians as United Nations monitors certified their integration. This is a milestone in the ending of a five-decade-long civil war, but as expected, every step taken towards peace is fraught (causing or affected by anxiety or stress) with new challenges.

Some dissidents (a person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state) within the FARC, including those who were part of the negotiations that led to the accord, have refused to give up arms, fearing retribution (punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act) from right-wing paramilitary groups following their integration. These dissidents were believed to be behind the kidnapping of a UN anti-narcotics official. Meanwhile, the retreat of the FARC from the forested rural areas, including where coca production thrived (prosper; flourish), has created a vacuum that criminal and paramilitary groups have tried to fill. Also, the demobilisation of the FARC and the peace process have coincided with the murder of many social activists in Colombia, many of whom were taking up issues related to agrarian (relating to cultivated land or the cultivation of land) rights and the environment.

This retribution by paramilitary groups is reminiscent (tending to remind one of something) of the previous resistance to peace attempts between the FARC and the Colombian government in the mid-1980s. Activists claim 40 such murders have been committed this year, much higher than the average in violence-prone (experience something unpleasant or regrettable) Colombia. This could well roil (make (someone) annoyed or irritated) the peace process and lead to a new phase of paramilitary violence. How Mr. Santos negotiates this challenge, besides taking on former President Álvaro Uribe’s continued opposition to the peace process, will determine the future of the milestone accord and its implementation.


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