July 12, 2019 / 9:05 PM / 3 days ago

Colombia's Duque says working to stop slayings of community leaders

LIMA (Reuters) - Colombia is working to halt scores of slayings of community leaders by criminal groups and remnant bands of rebels following the country’s historic 2016 peace deal, President Ivan Duque said on Friday, during a visit from the UN Security Council.

Colombia's President Ivan Duque, speaks during a news conference at the UN Security Council visit to Colombia, in Bogota, Colombia July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

The peace agreement with Marxist FARC rebels ended a half-century conflict that killed some 260,000 people. But criminal groups and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have filled the void left by the FARC in remote areas to control narcotics and illegal mining operations.

“They want to intimidate and kill social leaders who are calling on their communities to abandon illegal activities,” Duque told journalists as he spoke beside the presiding head of the Security Council, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra.

The Security Council will be in Colombia through Sunday to assess progress under the peace deal, which is being tested by the disappearance of a FARC lawmaker wanted on drug-trafficking charges and by ongoing violence in parts of the country.

Duque’s government has said that, according to cases verified by the United Nations, 281 community leaders were killed from May 2016 to May 2019.

Duque said that during his meeting with the Security Council delegation, he detailed progress his government has made on reducing the pace of killings of community leaders.

His government has said the number of killings of community leaders dropped about 30% over a recent 9-month period. But Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called that misleading because scores of killings in that period were still being verified.

“The government of Colombia should be redoubling its efforts to address this crisis, not finding ways to downplay it,” Jose Miguel Vivano, HRW’s executive director for the Americas said in a statement last month.

The peace agreement sought to demobilize some 13,000 FARC rebels, allowing them to re-integrate into society and politics.

Gustavo-Meza with the Security Council praised Colombia’s peace deal as “example” for the world.

The delegation, which arrived late on Thursday, will visit re-integration programs for former FARC rebels and meet with representatives of the FARC political party and a special court and commission for investigating war crimes.

Duque said he asked the Security Council to continue reviewing Colombia’s progress on fulfilling the peace agreement for another year. “We think its work, scrutiny and accompaniment is vital to the success of this process,” he said.

Reporting By Luis Jaime Acosta, Additional Reporting and Writing By Mitra Taj; Editing by David Gregorio

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