Sun, May 18, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Colombia, militant group forge deal on illicit drugs

DRUG ALLIANCE:The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia agreed to exit the illegal drug trade in the latest development from ongoing peace talks in Cuba

AP, HAVANA

Colombia’s government and main rebel group on Friday announced an agreement to jointly combat illicit drugs in the South American country, which was long the world’s leading cocaine producer.

Under the accord, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, agreed to divorce itself completely from the drug trade.

US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Colombian authorities have said that some FARC fronts are involved in the production and sales of drugs to Mexican and Colombian traffickers and through Venezuelan intermediaries. In the past, FARC had denied any involvement in trafficking, claiming it only taxes producers. Peru recently overtook Colombia in cultivation of coca, the crop used to produce cocaine.

“What we have agreed upon recognizes that in order to set the basis for a stable and lasting peace in Colombia, it is necessary to find a definitive solution to the problem of illicit drugs,” said a statement from the talks that was read at a news conference in Havana.

It was the latest agreement reached during months of talks in the Cuban capital. The two sides earlier reached accords on agrarian reform and the political participation for FARC, but none will take effect until all items on the agenda for negotiations are settled.

FARC is the Western Hemisphere’s last remaining major leftist insurgency, having taken up arms a half-century ago.

The announcement comes a little more than a week before elections in Colombia, involving incumbent Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who launched the peace talks, and his main challenger, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who opposes them. Zuluaga, a protege of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, argues that the FARC needs to end hostilities for talks to continue and should not be permitted into national politics.

Earlier in the day, FARC and Colombia’s other main rebel group, the National Liberation Army, issued an unusual joint statement declaring a halt in fighting for eight days, from Tuesday until Wednesday next week, around Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday.

Rebels have tried to disrupt past presidential elections and often dismiss Colombia’s electoral politics as a sport dominated by the country’s elites, so the ceasefire appears to be a vote of confidence in the Havana-based peace talks launched by Santos in November 2012. FARC also declared a ceasefire during March legislative elections.

Santos has been under attack from his main rivals for breaking with the policy of Uribe, whose relentless, US-backed military pressure had weakened the guerrillas.

Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez said the rebel announcement “is a ceasefire in which FARC joins the presidential campaign” of Santos.

Zuluaga, running second behind Santos in most polls, said that “the halt to criminal actions should be indefinite and verifiable.”

However, the bilateral action was welcomed by pro-Santos Colombian Senator Roy Barreras, who said it “is a clear message Colombians that peace is close and is possible.”

The rebels have declared temporary ceasefires in the past, though they have not been fully honored. The government itself has refused to grant ceasefires during the talks.

Both of Colombia’s rebel groups formed in the 1960s as an outgrowth of rural movements that sought a more equitable land distribution.

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