Colombia Renounces Authority to Create Demilitarized Areas for Peace Talks

By Dialogo
September 02, 2010

The Colombian government has renounced its authority to grant control of areas of the country to illegal armed groups in order to create demilitarized zones to enable progress in peace talks, Interior Minister Germán Vargas announced Tuesday.

The official clarified that President Juan Manuel Santos is keeping the door open to negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), but without setting up areas that the police and army would have to leave.

“The administration does not want to make use of this authority; there will not be any new cleared areas in the national territory. The administration itself is renouncing this authority that it does not plan to use,” Vargas said.

Under the law that the administration renounced, former president Andrés Pastrana turned over to the FARC the territorial control of an area of 42,000 square kilometers, twice the size of El Salvador, which served as the location for failed peace negotiations between 1999 and 2002.

In addition to serving as the location for peace talks, the region was used by the guerrillas to hide those they kidnapped, protect their leaders, and traffic in arms and drugs, as well as to evade military operations after attacks committed in the vicinity of the rebel enclave, according to security sources.

Former president Alvaro Uribe also used the law to establish an area, in the northern part of the country, in which the chief paramilitary leaders gathered amid controversial negotiations that enabled 31,000 fighters belonging to those illegal armed groups to lay down their arms.


“It is a message that whatever talks may eventually take place will not be conditioned on clearing areas of the national territory; the administration is not renouncing the possibility of moving forward on talks, but not on the basis of clearing any part of the national territory,” the interior minister affirmed.

“The illegal armed groups should understand that without the existence of this authority, the clearing of any area of the national territory will not be something up for negotiation,” he explained.

In the past, the FARC demanded that the government withdraw the armed forces and police from a jungle department in the southern part of the country as a condition for peace talks.

Subsequently, they asked for the withdrawal of the armed forces from an extensive mountainous area in southwestern Colombia in order to create a security zone in which their representatives and those of the government could meet in order to negotiate a hostage-exchange agreement.

However, former president Uribe, who held office from 2002 to 2010, refused to comply with the demands of the FARC, considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

“It is something that the administration is not considering, and therefore it does not consider it useful to have this authority,” Vargas warned.

Some analysts thought that the administration’s decision will pose even more difficulties for the possibility of starting a peace process with the guerrillas.

Santos has conditioned the start of negotiations with the FARC and the ELN on their release of those they have kidnapped, their suspension of criminal activities such as attacks with explosives and drug trafficking, and their readiness to lay down their arms.